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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets with Papua New Guinea leaders

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin (R) greets Joe Zadrozny, charge d'affaires, at the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea and Elias Wohengu (C), deputy chief of mission, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on Thursday. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Department of Defense
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin (R) greets Joe Zadrozny, charge d'affaires, at the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea and Elias Wohengu (C), deputy chief of mission, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on Thursday. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Department of Defense | License Photo

July 27 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a meeting Thursday with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said the United States is not interested in creating a permanent base there but will help bolster the country's forces.

Austin made the comments while meeting with Marape and other Papua New Guinea leaders at its capital of Port Moresby as they spoke about the Defense Cooperation Agreement in the Pacific that was signed in May.

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The United States has had a series of meetings with countries in the Indo-Pacific on the growing threat from China and the freedom of international waterways.

Austin said the 15-year agreement lays a "fundamental, foundational framework, to deepen the defense relationship."

"I want you to appreciate the USA never tampered with our autonomy and independence or with respect of sovereignty," Marape said about the agreement he called a negotiation between friends.

Austin also met with Papua New Guinea's Minister for Defense Win Bakri Daki, Secretary for Defense Hari John Akipe and Chief of Defense Force Maj. Gen. Mark Goina.

"The leaders had a productive exchange of views on efforts to build capacity to provide humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, improve maritime domain awareness, combat climate change and address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the region, including through the upcoming visit of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter to Papua New Guinea as part of the shiprider agreement," a White House readout of the meeting said.

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In May, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the island nation's Deputy Prime Minister John Rosso to sign the pact. Blinken stood in for President Joe Biden who had been expected to attend, but cut short his Asia trip to return to Washington for debt ceiling negotiations.

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