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U.S., Thailand renew military alliance

BANGKOK, Nov. 15 (UPI) —

Thai and U.S. officials Thursday renewed their military alliance, saying it supports a U.S. presence in the region and recognizes Thailand as a regional leader.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the new agreement between the longtime allies has "moved this alliance into the 21st century," the Bangkok Post reported.

The renewed alliance supported "the United States’ enduring presence in the Asia-Pacific" and recognizes Thailand as a "regional leader," Panetta and Thai Defense Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat said in a joint statement.

The Thai Defense minister dismissed claims that the alliance was a cooperative effort between the two nations to blunt China’s rising influence in the region.

"Both China and the United States are our friends who are equally treated by us," he said.

Thailand’s support for the U.S. presence will help stabilize and grow the Asia-Pacific region, the joint statement said.

The new partnership also called for cooperation in humanitarian relief efforts and Washington’s backing on selling U.S. military equipment to modernize Thai armed forces.

Panetta said the two countries did not discuss the use of U-tapao airport in Rayong for the military and for a humanitarian relief center. The United States had no plan to use the airport, he added.

His visit to Bangkok, the first face-to-face talks between U.S. and Thai defense ministers since 2008, came days before President Obama was to arrive Sunday for a tour of Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar.

The United States suspended military aid to Thailand after a 2006 coup but reinstated it after 2007 elections.

Panetta will fly to Cambodia Friday to attend a meeting of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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