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Carter, ASEAN Ministers Reaffirm Commitment to Regional Security

WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2016 — The United States and its Asian-Pacific allies reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen defense cooperation in areas including maritime security and counterterrorism, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday in Hawaii.

Defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met Friday in Kapolei, Hawaii, where they deepened their countries' partnership and renewed pledges to address shared security challenges, Carter told reporters following the talks.

"We all recommitted our militaries to keeping the region's waterways open and secure and to help all our nations see more, share more and do more in Southeast Asia's vital waterways," he said.

The ministers, Carter said, had productive discussions.

He said the Asian-Pacific nations' cooperation with the U.S., as well as among themselves, will further enhance regional security.

"We discussed the path forward for the Asia Pacific's principled and inclusive security network, which will help us all to connect, to cooperate and to contribute to regional security," he said.

'Certain and Lasting Defeat' for ISIL

The ministers spent a considerable amount of time discussing the threats posed by terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as well as from returning foreign fighters and other extremists in the region, Carter said.

The secretary said he briefed participants on efforts of the counter-ISIL coalition.   

"I was able to share with the ministers the accelerating campaign to deal ISIL a certain and lasting defeat in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria and everywhere it might metastasize around the world, including Southeast Asia," Carter said.

US-ASEAN Partnership 'Stronger Than Ever'

Carter applauded ASEAN for its enduring commitment to peace and stability over the years, saying it has helped provide the security and uphold the principles that have benefited nations and the entire region.

"ASEAN will be just as central to the Asia Pacific's principled future as it has been for the last half century," Carter said. "The United States looks forward to partnering with ASEAN and its member countries for decades to come."

The U.S.-ASEAN partnership is now "stronger than ever," according to Carter, who noted the ministerial meeting built upon the ASEAN summit held in Laos in September. He thanked Laos for its contributions to both meetings.

Rebalance to Asia Pacific

Carter said he shared with his counterparts the U.S. plans and commitments of the third phase of the rebalance to the Asia Pacific, which is meant to cement the progress of the previous phases that enhanced and improved the U.S. military force posture there.

As part of the third phase, the Defense Department will take steps to "help catalyze our shared principles and inclusive security network," he said.

That will happen, Carter explained, even as the U.S. qualitatively upgrades its force posture in the region and prioritizes investments and advanced technologies.

"The U.S. rebalance and the burgeoning security network are important at a time of regional change and challenges," he said.

Coordination within and among the militaries will be improved as well, he said. He announced a number of upcoming events, including an ASEAN maritime dialogue and a maritime domain awareness exercise both hosted by the U.S.

In addition, he said, he invited his counterparts to visit the U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South in Florida to see how U.S. military law enforcement agencies work there with partner countries.

To build on these discussions, Carter said he asked the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, a DoD institute, to host a workshop next year to identify and address any gaps in U.S.-ASEAN cooperation.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)

Distribution channels: Military