US Defense Secretary seeks to increase ties with Mongolia

 — U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is seeking to bolster U.S. military relations with Mongolia as he wraps up 10-day trip to the Asia-Pacific.
Hagel's stop Thursday in Ulan Bator put him in between China and Russia, two global powers that the U.S. has been sparring with over territorial disputes involving U.S. allies. And it underscored a repeated message he delivered over the past 10 days urging nations to respect their neighbors and to resolve disagreements peacefully.
Arriving here after spending three days in China meeting with leaders, Hagel was expected to thank the fledgling Democratic nation for its contributions to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He was to meet with Mongolian Defense Minister Bat-Erdene.
Mongolian troops have been a visible and frequent force in Iraq and Afghanistan, often providing security at U.S. facilities.
All the commanders who led Mongolian troops during the Iraq and Afghanistan deployments went through U.S. training programs, the Pentagon said. There are about 10,000 active duty Mongolian troops, and to date 9,500 have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or another peacekeeping mission around the world.
The U.S. provides about $2 billion in foreign military sales annually to Mongolia, and another $1 billion in military education and training.
Landlocked with 2.8 million people spread over an area twice the size of Texas, Mongolia is dwarfed by China, but also relies on the Asian nation for much of its economy. It has worked to maintain its independence from Beijing and Moscow by increasing its ties to other world powers, including the U.S. and Japan.
Hagel's visit was expected to be a bit warmer than his visit to China, where he spent much of his time talking about the need for increased openness by Beijing about its military growth and intentions.
The U.S. has criticized Beijing's recent declaration of an air defense zone over a large swath of the East China Sea, including disputed remote islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China. And in meetings and public events, Hagel and the Chinese leaders delivered sharp exchanges on those issues, as well as Washington's continued close ties with Taiwan.
Beijing leaders, meanwhile, asserted their rights to protect and regain their territories, using both diplomacy and military action if necessary. And they questioned U.S. claims that it remains neutral on the sovereignty of the disputed islands, while still committed to protecting Japan, which is a treaty ally.
On Wednesday, Hagel met with China President Xi Jinping in a session that U.S. administration officials described as more positive than some of the sharper meetings earlier in the week with the defense minister and others.
At the start of the meeting, Xi, speaking through a translator, said Hagel's visit "will definitely push forward the development of our new model of military-to-military relationship."
Senior U.S. officials said the ongoing tensions with North Korea, including Pyongyang's threats to conduct additional missile launches and a nuclear test, were a key topic during the meeting.
Hagel stressed that China and the U.S. must work together, and both agreed that the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was a priority, said the officials, who were not authorized to talk publicly about the private session so spoke on condition of anonymity.

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