MANILA, Philippines -- U.S. and Philippine officials will consider arranging limited access for U.S. military forces in the .. Philippines after the last U.S. bases here are closed down, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said yesterday.
Emerging from a 30-minute meeting with newly elected Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos, Mr. Baker told reporters that military access for the United States would be discussed in November at a meeting of the Mutual Defense Board. The panel meets quarterly to review military cooperation between the two countries under a 1951 treaty.
Mr. Baker said the United States "would be delighted to consider any proposals" for resuming military cooperation between the two longtime allies -- making clear that the U.S. military presence here would continue only if the Philippines specifically requested it.
The U.S. Navy is currently moving out of Subic Bay, and the last forces are scheduled to leave the sprawling base by Dec. 16, following the rejection by the Philippine Senate last September of a proposed 10-year lease extension. Opponents had considered the base a vestige of U.S. colonialism.
The U.S. Air Force already has vacated Clark Air Base, which was heavily damaged by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo last year. The closing of the two bases, once America's largest overseas, ends nearly a century of military presence here.
U.S. officials said the access agreement is similar to one negotiated two years ago with Singapore. Under such an arrangement, the United States does not have its own military base, but it has the right under some circumstances to use another country's military facilities and to move U.S. troops in and out of the country.
The United States is seeking access arrangements with several other Southeast Asian countries. The Pentagon is moving its regional logistics command from Subic to Singapore and is working on arranging ship repair, landing rights, joint training and other military cooperation with Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
A senior State Department official contended yesterday that with such a series of access arrangements, the United States might wind up with a broader military presence in Southeast Asia than it had when the Philippine bases were operating.
"Actually, you'll have more ships stopping in more countries over time (than before)," the official said. But the number of American troops stationed in the region would be far fewer.