U.S. Pacific Commander Visits Volcano-Ravaged Bases
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The U.S. Pacific Command commander today toured two volcano-damaged military bases at the center of a growing dispute over lease arrangements and payments to the Philippine government.
The leases on Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base expire in mid- September, but negotiations to keep the facilities open have been complicated by last month’s eruptions of Mount Pinatubo.
Thick ash and debris covered Clark, which was cleared of personnel and aircraft after the first eruption June 9. Subic suffered less damage.
Adm. Charles Larson visited Subic Bay, then flew to Clark, about 10 miles east of the volcano.
Stanley Schrager, spokesman of the U.S. Embassy in Manila, gave no details of Larson’s tour.
Larson is expected to meet with U.S. special negotiator Richard Armitage on Monday before lease talks resume next week, the embassy said.
In Washington, Adm. Frank Kelso, the U.S. Navy’s top officer, said Friday the volcano caused ″considerable″ damage to Subic and indicated some areas of the base may not be immediately repaired if the work were too costly. He said the final decision would be made after a new lease agreement is reached.
U.S. officials have made pessimistc predictions on Clark, the largest U.S. military facility overseas. A preliminary Air Force study put basic repair costs at $520 million.
Washington has offered to pay Manila $360 million a year for a new 10- to 12-year lease. The Philippines wants $825 million a year for a sever-year contract.
A ranking Philippine Air Force officer, Vice Chief Brig. Gen. Rogelio Estacio, predicted Washington may scale down operations or abandon Clark but not give up the Subic naval facility.
″The Americans are bluffing when they say they are prepared to leave Subic,″ Estacio said.
He said he believes the two countries will reach an agreement.