WASHINGTON - Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday he is as committed to U.S. engagement with the Asia-Pacific as his predecessor.
Kerry, who took office last month, moved to dispel doubts that he was less supportive of the Obama administration's so-called "pivot" to Asia, initiated on the watch of former top diplomat Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Kerry, however, took issue with the notion of a "pivot" as it implied the U.S. was turning away from Europe and the Middle East.
"I don't think that our rebalance and our engagement has to be at the expense of anyone else," he told reporters after meeting Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr.
Kerry said that he'll visit Northeast Asia next month, to meet with new governments in South Korea, Japan and China. He will go to Southeast Asia in June.
The administration has telegraphed Kerry's travel plans in advance to dampen speculation over shifting foreign policy priorities in President Barack Obama's second term. Kerry's first overseas trip was to Europe and the Middle East — where the civil war in Syria and concern over Iran's nuclear program demand attention — rather than to Asia, where Clinton made her first trip.
Kerry said he spent a significant portion of his career engaging Asia and intends to do the same as secretary of state. He mentioned his interest while a senator on the democratic transition in the Philippines, normalization of relations with Vietnam and negotiation of the U.N.-backed tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia.
"It is vital in the years ahead that we remain focused on Asia, and we will," Kerry said.
Carr offered a ringing endorsement, saying the depth of Kerry's commitment to the region was no different to Clinton's.
Australia is a staunch U.S. ally and one of the most tangible signs of the pivot has been a new U.S. military deployment in northern Australia. Kerry said that another company of Marines will go there next month.
However, U.S. budget woes have generated new uncertainty over Washington's ability to increase its military presence in the Asia-Pacific. Automatic cuts triggered by a disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over how to rein in the U.S. national debt are likely to crimp America's military activities in the region.
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