Australia has agreed to host a permanent U.S. Marine presence, beginning in 2012.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the agreement Wednesday at a joint news conference in Canberra.
“We are here to stay. This is a region of huge strategic importance to us,” Obama told reporters. “Even has we make a host of important fiscal decisions back home, this is right up there at the top of my priority list.
“We will make sure we are able to fulfill our leadership role in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Gillard added that she felt confident that the new military deployment would not be among the budget cuts planned by the U.S. Congress.
“Budgets are about choices and there are hard choices about the things you value,” she said. “And I think by President Obama being here, he is saying he values the role of the United States in this region and our alliance.”
The deployment is slated to begin with a small number of Marines to Darwin and northern Australia, with 250 troops staying for six month stints. Eventually a 2,500-soldier force is envisioned, comprising an Australia-based U.S. Marine Air Ground Task Force.