The Obama administration and Australian officials are completing final details of a plan for an increased U.S. military presence "down under." Diplomatic sources say the formal announcement will come when President Obama visits Darwin next week.
U.S.officials declined comment on the timing of the announcement but National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor noted work, "was underway to develop options to align our respective force postures in ways that would benefit the national security of both countries." He said options discussed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and their Australian counterparts remained "under consideration."
At a September meeting, the U.S. and Australian officials discussed "a number of options aimed at positioning the military forces of both nations to respond in a timely and effective way to contingencies, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and to enhance their ability to work with the armed forces of regional partners."
In a pre-trip briefing, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the president would use the brief stop in Australia to emphasize "the U.S. presence in the region and our commitment to the region."
The Australian newspaper "The Age" reports the agreement will see U.S.Marines rotate through an Australian base in Darwin in "a permanent new military presence."
President Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard plan a joint appearance at an Australian military base in Darwin next Thursday. The Australian government's announcement of Mr. Obama's first trip to the country as president noted, "The United States is Australia's closest ally and partner. The Alliance is fundamental to Australia's security and a cornerstone of stability in the Asia-Pacific region."
Australia's Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Beazley, a former defense minister, recently told reporters the Obama visit would "rev up" activities beneath the surface" including trade, diplomacy and intelligence sharing.
Beijing will likely view the U.S.-Australian announcement as provocative. China has been flexing its military muscle in the South China Sea with an increased naval presence.
Publicly, U.S.and Australian officials have downplayed the stepped up military cooperation as a response to China's actions but President Obama is expected to use next week's summit with Southeast Asia leaders in Indonesia to emphasize the importance of open international access to the South China Sea. The issue will likely surface when the President meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao at a weekend meeting in Honolulu.