Philippines fails to reach deal with US over increased military presence

Philippines fails to reach deal with US over increased military presence
Philippines President Benigno Aquino greets US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas (L) while visiting US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel (C) looks on during a courtesy call at the presidential palace in Manila August 30, 2013.

MANILA - Discussions over proposals to expand the American military's presence in the Philippines failed to reach a deal, Filipino officials said Thursday, a day after US President Barack Obama called off a Manila visit.

The plan would allow more US troops, aircraft and ships to temporarily pass through the Philippines, an Asian military ally, at a time when Washington is refocusing its attention on Asia.

President Benigno Aquino has pushed for the deal to help modernise the Philippine military and to contain China, which he accuses of illegally laying claim to most of the South China Sea including parts of Filipino territory.

The two sides completed a fourth round of talks in Manila on Wednesday, but Filipino negotiators could not say when these will resume amid a US government shutdown.

The negotiations are at a "crucial" stage, with more work needed over the installations to be offered to the Americans, as well as the "pre-positioning" of US defence equipment, chief Filipino negotiator Pio Batino told a news conference.

"While we have narrowed down the discussions to these substantive issues, there are still gaps in our positions," he said, refusing to give details.

"We will need to work on some issues more than the others."

The other key issues tackled this week were on "ownership" and "security", a Philippine government statement said.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel had said during a visit to Manila in late August that the two allies were moving towards an agreement "in the near future" and the access talks were to have been a centrepiece of Obama's visit to Manila on October 11-12.

However, Obama cancelled the Malaysian and Philippine legs of his trip on Wednesday due to the budget stand-off with Republican leaders.

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