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Kerry in Philippines to propel troop deal

Update: December, 17/2013 - 11:19

MANILA – Secretary of State John Kerry is due to arrive in the Philippines on Tuesday for a two-day trip that could fast-track a deal on expanding the US military presence.

Kerry will also visit areas devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan last month, highlighting a massive US humanitarian response to the disaster.

"Kerry's visit can be expected to act as a catalyst for change," said John Blaxland, a security and defence analyst at Australia National University's College of Asia and the Pacific.

Washington and Manila are in the final stages of hammering out a deal allowing more US troops, aircraft and ships to temporarily pass through the Philippines, where the last US bases closed in 1992.

"He will be eager to leverage the visit to speed up and finalise arrangements and assure the Philippines and other regional powers that the US is not just a fair-weather friend," Blaxland said.

The United States, the former colonial power in the Philippines, has been the greatest contributor of aid following the typhoon which left nearly 8,000 dead or missing, and 4 million people homeless.

Washington deployed an aircraft carrier group and committed 1,000 Marines and $20 million in a mobilisation that served as a preview of the deal's intensified defence engagement.

Beijing meanwhile drew scorn with an initial offer of just $100,000 to the Philippines, a Washington ally with which it is locked in a dispute over sovereignty of islands in the strategically vital East Sea.

Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said Washington's humanitarian response could help it secure the military pact with Manila.

"America's immediate, massive and generous support in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan could well hasten negotiations on US military rotational deployments through the Philippines," he said.

Kerry, who is touring the Philippines for the first time since taking office, will hold talks in Manila on Tuesday before travelling on to the typhoon-ravaged town of Tacloban on Wednesday.

He will meet with his Philippine counterpart Albert del Rosario as well as President Benigno Aquino. AFP

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