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In Melbourne, Mullen keeps US sights on China, Iran

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It’s a topic that was under discussion at this week’s annual Australia-United States ministerial security meeting, in wide-ranging talks that included condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program and how best to fend off cyberattacks.

On the former point, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in one of the more notable moments of a Monday joint press conference with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Australian officials that he disagreed with the notion that only a credible military threat can get Iran to take the actions that it needs to end its nuclear weapons program.

“We are prepared to do what is necessary, but at this point we continue to believe that the political economic approach that we are taking is in fact having an impact in Iran,” he added.

More controversial here is discussion of a security arrangement that could see an increased US troop presence on bases in Australia as the US military is forced to downsize bases in Japan.

A potential base-sharing arrangement with Australia could provide staging grounds for the US military to quickly respond to humanitarian disasters, US officials note. But China is clearly the greatest calculus in what officials are referring to as a new “forward-deployed diplomacy” in the Pacific.

Secretary Gates stressed that any talk about future US bases is speculation, and said he has yet to submit his global posture review, which will include recommendations on the way forward in the Pacific, to the National Security Council.

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