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Australia, U.S. may expand military ties

March 27, 2012 at 1:47 AM

WASHINGTON, March 27 (UPI) -- The United States and Australia are negotiating a closer military alliance that could include joint drone operations, officials say.

The Washington Post, citing U.S. and Australian officials, said Australia is expected to allow the U.S. Navy greater use of its ports. Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed in November to allow 2,500 U.S. Marines to be stationed in Darwin in the Northern Territories.

President Barack Obama has been shifting operations to Southeast Asia and away from the Middle East. The administration is concerned about China's growing power, both economic and military.

"In terms of your overall influence in the Asia-Pacific zone, the strategic weight is shifting south," a senior Australian official, speaking on condition his name would not be used, told the Post. "Australia didn't look all that important during the Cold War. But Australia looks much more important if your fascination is really with the Southeast Asian archipelago."

The only U.S. Navy base in the Indian Ocean is Diego Garcia, a small British territory where the lease expires in 2016. One possibility to replace Diego Garcia or to expand operations is the Cocos Islands, an Australian territory that could become a drone base.

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