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Yasay on mission to Washington

/ 04:57 AM September 15, 2016

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. is set to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Thursday in an apparent attempt to mend fences with the country’s staunchest military ally after President Duterte called for US troop withdrawal in Mindanao.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Yasay would attend a private dinner to be hosted by Kerry on Sept. 15 for visiting senior officials including foreign ministers. He is also expected to attend meetings of the Filipino community, the chief executive officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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“Secretary Kerry will be hosting a private dinner for visiting high officials including foreign ministers,” DFA spokesperson Charles Jose said in a press briefing on Wednesday.

No bilateral meeting

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He said that while no bilateral meeting between secretaries Yasay and Kerry has been tabled, the two would have a chance to talk on pressing issues during the private dinner.

The chief diplomat would then proceed to New York to attend the annual United Nations General Assembly.

Earlier, Yasay said he was ready to respond to any inquiry from Kerry regarding Mr. Duterte’s recent statements on withdrawal of US troops in Mindanao.

“I will have the same things to tell him (Kerry) as there is no change in our foreign policy,” Yasay said in a television interview, prior to leaving. He said he would discuss with Kerry “the projects and joint cooperation matters that we will continue to pursue (with the US).”

No directive

Jose said there has been no directive to transmit any official communication to the US Embassy in Manila regarding the  withdrawal of US troops. There are currently 107 American soldiers stationed in southern Zamboanga city, according to  the Filipino army.

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“Malacañang has clarified that the announcement was not an official statement of the President,” Jose said.

While President Duterte has said the government was considering acquiring defense equipment from China and Russia to upgrade its capability, there has been no change in the country’s foreign policy position.

Former Philippine Representative to the UN, Lauro Baja Jr., also a former undersecretary for policy,  meanwhile sought to downplay the impact of Mr. Duterte’s statement, noting that remaining American troops here were “only some advisers on operational tactics against terrorism.”

“The only concern I see is the decision may send wrong signals to China or neighbors in Asean and even to the US itself, coming as it does from a series of statements from the President and other developments,” Baja told the Inquirer.

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