Prayut to hold talks with US Defence Secretary

Prayut to hold talks with US Defence Secretary

Members of Khana Ratsadon for the Repeal of (Section 112) on Tuesday gather in front of the US embassy to submit a letter to US President Joe Biden and Asean leaders asking them to pressure Thailand into freeing 11 political prisoners and abolishing the lese majeste law. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Members of Khana Ratsadon for the Repeal of (Section 112) on Tuesday gather in front of the US embassy to submit a letter to US President Joe Biden and Asean leaders asking them to pressure Thailand into freeing 11 political prisoners and abolishing the lese majeste law. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will hold talks with US Defence Secretary Lloyd James Austin during his visit to Washington DC for the US-Asean Special Summit on Thursday and Friday, a source said.

The meeting has fuelled rumours that further talks will take place about the Royal Thai Air Force's (RTAF) bid to procure F-35 fighter jets.

The RTAF needs the backing of both the US administration and Congress to procure four new F-35 fighter jets under a 13.8-billion-baht procurement plan approved by the cabinet on Jan 11.

Gen Prayut said he will leave for Washington DC on Wednesday to attend the US-Asean Special Summit where US and Asean leaders are expected to announce their vision on how they will continue cooperating in the post-Covid-19 pandemic period.

The US and Asean will continue working to manage the Covid-19 Asean Response Fund to support preparations to deal with any new public health emergencies through research cooperation and investments in the pharmaceutical and vaccination production industries, deputy government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul said.

Ahead of the summit, Thai and US officials engaged in discussions at the US-Thailand Strategic and Defense Dialogue in Washington DC on Monday and Tuesday (May 9-10), according to a US embassy press release.

Held for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the meeting was not only attended by high-level officials from the US and Thailand, but also by officials from other Asean countries.

During Gen Prayut's visit to the United States, he will also meet US businesspeople and update them on Thailand's plan to revive its economy after fully reopening its borders, government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said.

Meanwhile, army chief Gen Narongpan Jitkaewtae has dismissed speculation that a coup could be on the horizon to defuse potential political chaos which might erupt as a result of major events including the censure debate and Gen Prayut's tenure fiasco.

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