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Panetta Calls for More Access to Pacific Harbors

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, right, talks with Chief Mate Fred Cullen as he takes a boat out to a U.S. navy cargo ship USNS Richard E. Byrd in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, June 3, 2012.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called for continued access to harbors in the South China Sea, as the U.S. seeks to move a majority of its warships to the Asian-Pacific region by 2020.

Panetta comments Sunday came as he visited Vietnam's deep-water port at Cam Ranh Bay, a former U.S. military base and wartime supply hub, a day after outlining the Navy's new focus on Asia.

The defense secretary toured an American naval cargo ship undergoing repairs at Cam Ranh Bay. He is the first U.S. official to visit the port since the Vietnam war ended in 1975.

Speaking on the deck of the USNS Richard E. Byrd, Panetta said his visit was symbolic of the normalization of ties between the United States and Vietnam.

"And the fact that this ship is here in Cam Ranh Bay, and that it is being serviced by contractors here at this location and the repair work is being done by our Vietnamese friends, that is a tremendous indication of how far we have come in that relationship over these many years," he said.

On Saturday, Panetta told a security forum in Singapore on Saturday that the U.S. Navy would shift the majority of its ships to the Pacific by 2020 as part of a strategic focus on Asia.

The U.S. defense secretary will also visit India during his week-long trip to Asia.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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