US not seeking permanent base in Papua New Guinea, says US defense chief

US not seeking permanent base in Papua New Guinea, says US defense chief

Lloyd Austin is 1st US defense secretary to visit Pacific island country

By Anadolu staff

ANKARA (AA) - US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday said that Washington is not seeking a permanent base in Papua New Guinea but will boost the Pacific nation's capability under a new defense agreement.

Austin, the first US defense chief to visit the country, met Prime Minister James Marape to discuss bilateral ties, mainly continuation of the US-Papua New Guinea Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Later, talking to reporters along with Marape, he announced that a US Coast Guard vessel would arrive in August under a separate maritime law enforcement deal.

He stressed that the defense agreement is a "fundamental," foundational framework, to deepen the defense relationship between the two sides.

In May, the two sides inked a defense pact that grants an "unimpeded access" to the US military to key defense facilities in Papua New Guinea, including the joint PNG-Australia Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island.

The 15-year defense cooperation agreement was made public for the first time in June after it was proposed in the island nation's parliament.

The signing of the pact came on the heels of China signing a security deal with the Solomon Islands last year, triggering reactions from the US and its allies in the region.

That June pact includes surveillance, reconnaissance activities, bunkering of vessels, and the staging and deployment of forces.

Also, it grants US authorities the "exclusive right to exercise criminal jurisdiction over US personnel."

Papua New Guinea, a resource-rich but largely undeveloped nation north of Australia, retains civil and administrative jurisdiction over US personnel for "acts or omissions" in the country outside the course of official duty.

The US Defense Department has also provided the PNG Defense Force with $5.4 million worth of personal protective equipment, including ballistic helmets, flak vests with armor plates, elbow pads, knee pads, and eye protection.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron will arrive in Papua New Guinea on Thursday evening, the first visit by a French leader.

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