MANILA— The new United States ambassador to the Philippines said he hopes an agreement between the two countries to have more U.S. troop visits will be signed “as soon as possible.”
Philip Goldberg presented his credentials to President Benigno Aquino on Monday morning in Manila. Afterwards, he made his pitch on state-run television for an agreement under negotiation that would see more visits from U.S. military forces to the Philippines.
Goldberg said the ongoing typhoon relief operations by American forces are a good example of the kind of assistance that would be boosted by the agreement.
“The ability to have that a little bit faster and more efficiently will always be of help. There are reasons to build minimal defense capability and maritime defense awareness. That will come with a framework agreement,” said Goldberg.
Under the agreement, the U.S. is seeking access to areas in the Philippines where it could dock ships, land aircraft and store equipment. Talks between both parties came to a standstill in October after Philippine negotiators said they needed more time to study issues. The Philippines has reiterated that terms must comply with its constitution, which does not allow permanent basing by outside countries.
The Philippines has said having more training opportunities with a visible American presence would help form a “minimum credible defense posture.” The Philippines is locked in a row with China over rocks and outcroppings in the South China Sea that are claimed by both nations.
Last week, the Philippine foreign minister pressed for a conclusion to the talks, saying the U.S.’s humanitarian operations in the typhoon zone showed the need for such an agreement.
Carl Baker with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said Goldberg’s first public statement “makes sense.”
“It’s trying to send a message to the Filipinos that this isn’t just about U.S interests. That he’s there to serve Filipino interests as well as U.S. interests and this is one example of how they do that,” explained Baker.
The U.S. had bases in the Philippines for nearly a century; the archipelago was a U.S. colony for half a century. However, domestic pressure saw the bases close in 1992. Baker said some special interest groups in the Philippines continue to voice opposition to any U.S. troop presence in the country.
Baker also said that Goldberg’s arrival in Manila comes at a time that there is a high level of visibility of American forces here doing humanitarian work.
Goldberg, a career diplomat, comes to the Philippines after a three-year stint as assistant secretary in the U.S. State Department’s intelligence and research bureau. Before that he was part of a team that oversaw sanctions against North Korea. Goldberg’s term as ambassador to Bolivia was cut short in 2008 after President Evo Morales expelled him, accusing him of spying for the opposition.
Goldberg said the U.S. sees China’s demand that all aircraft identify themselves when flying in its declared airspace over the East China Sea as a move that will increase tensions and “create miscalculations.” China and Japan are in a heated dispute over islets in that sea.