Defense Secretary Leon Panetta shakes hands with President of the Republic of Korea Lee Myung-bak on October 12, 2011. FILE/UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg | License Photo
BALI, Indonesia, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- The United States would do everything to help develop the security of the ASEAN region, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in Bali, Indonesia.
The secretary was on the Indonesian resort island to address the annual meeting of the defense ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Panetta later told reporters the United States is a Pacific nation, committed to being a force for peace and prosperity in the region. He said he and the ASEAN ministers discussed issues of maritime security, proliferation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the Defense Department Web site reported.
"The ministers were very frank in presenting their views," Panetta said. "I told them that I would do everything possible ... to develop a relationship in which the security of this region will be strengthened for the future."
A senior defense official traveling with Panetta said the talks were frank but upbeat.
He said many of the ministers also addressed the South China Sea dispute, a source of regional tension involving recent discoveries of oil reserves.
The issue has heated up, with China claiming sovereignty over all of the South China Sea, but Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have competing claims over parts of the seas.
The United States wants a peaceful resolution of the sea dispute through multilateral efforts.
"I think we've seen a very clear commitment from ASEAN to address multilateral issues through multilateral mechanisms," the senior U.S. defense official was quoted as saying.
Panetta's next stops on his Asian journey are Japan and South Korea.