Hagel, Philippine leader discuss expanding US military presence
MANILA (AFP) - Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said he and President Benigno Aquino discussed expanding the US military's presence in the Philippines on Friday as the Asian ally looks to defend its territorial claims in disputed waters.
The US defence chief went ahead with his overnight visit to Manila despite a tense showdown over Syria, with US forces prepared to launch punitive strikes against the Damascus regime if ordered by President Barack Obama.
Mr Hagel said he and Aquino "reaffirmed the progress being made" in talks begun earlier this month to allow a bigger US military footprint in the Philippines, which had hosted large US military bases until 1992.
"This progress is welcome and encouraging. I noted that our negotiating teams are working hard to finish the framework agreement in the near future," he told reporters.