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Defense chief plans to refocus on Asia

Carter has upcoming visit to Japan, South Korea

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter spoke Monday at the McCain Institute at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. (Associated Press)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter spoke Monday at the McCain Institute at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. (Associated Press)
Robert Burns Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. – The Obama administration is opening a new phase of its strategic “rebalance” toward Asia and the Pacific by investing in high-end weapons such as a new long-range stealth bomber, refreshing its defense alliance with Japan and expanding trade partnerships, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday.

“I am personally committed to overseeing the next phase of the rebalance, which will deepen and diversify our engagement in the region,” Carter said in a speech outlining the administration’s rationale for trying to devote more attention to Asia.

At a time of increasing conflict and uncertainty across the Middle East, as well as growing worry about Russian intervention in Ukraine, Carter’s remarks seemed designed to convince Americans, and perhaps more importantly, the country’s Asian allies, of the American commitment to the so-called Asia pivot.

His speech at Arizona State University’s McCain Institute touched on themes he expects to raise on a week-long trip to Asia, his first since becoming Pentagon chief in February. He will visit Japan and South Korea for meetings with top government officials and also spend time with U.S. troops.

Carter urged Congress to give President Barack Obama authority to complete a free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation accord that Carter said holds “enormous promise” for jobs and economic growth in the United States.

He called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, one of the most important parts of the administration’s effort to shift more attention to Asia and the Pacific after more than a decade of focusing on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said TPP is as important to him as a new aircraft carrier.

He described the Asia-Pacific trade arrangement as an urgent priority. “Time is running out,” he said, as countries in the region forge their own trade agreements without the U.S.

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