US official questions Asia 'pivot', backtracks


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration rushed Tuesday to restate its commitment to a stronger presence in Asia after a senior defense official reportedly said that budget cuts mean the so-called "pivot" can't happen.

A senior Democratic senator voiced concern at a congressional hearing over the comments by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Katrina McFarland.

According to Defense News, McFarland told a defense industry conference: "Right now, the pivot is being looked at again, because candidly it can't happen."

McFarland later issued a clarification that the shift in focus to the region requires difficult budget decisions and adaptation, but the "rebalance to Asia can and will continue."

The administration has made increased engagement in Asia a key plank of its foreign policy as the U.S. winds down its military involvement in Afghanistan, and contends with a rising China. The U.S. has begun a new deployment of troops in Australia, and plans to shift more of its naval forces to the region.

But budget pressures have raised widespread doubts about America's capacity to follow through on the policy.

The Pentagon on Tuesday unveiled a proposed 2015 defense budget, aiming for a smaller, more modern force rather than a larger one less prepared for combat. Some in Congress, however, see that as an approach that weakens U.S. capabilities in a period of growing uncertainty in Europe and Asia.

Sen. Ben Cardin voiced concern about McFarland's comments at a hearing of the panel he chairs that oversees U.S. policy toward Asia.

David Helvey, a senior defense official for East Asia, responded that the 2015 budget would enable the U.S. to strengthen its posture and presence, "and ensure the U.S. preserves its status as the pre-eminent military power in the region."