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Kerry postpones visit to Philippines as typhoon approaches

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends the 8th East Asia Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, October 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ahim Rani
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends the 8th East Asia Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, October 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ahim Rani

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday called off a planned visit to the Philippines due to an approaching typhoon, a week after President Barack Obama also cancelled a trip to the U.S. ally because of the federal government shutdown.

Kerry, flanked by Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario at the East Asia Summit in Brunei, said the decision was made based on "the judgment of our pilots and the airlines" due to the typhoon.

He was scheduled to be in Manila on Friday.

"I want to emphasize the strength of our relationship and the bilateral ties that we have that are literally unbreakable," Kerry added, adding that he was committed to returning to the region "within a month or so" on a visit that would include the Philippines.

"This is a big storm. Obviously storms can change paths at the last minute."

Tropical storm Nari is expected to cross the central part of the main Philippine island of Luzon on Friday evening. The centre of the storm, with gusts of up to 120 kph (75 miles per hour) and maximum winds of 95 kph, was estimated at 510 km (about 315 miles) east of northeastern Aurora province as of Thursday.

"We understand and look forward to his visit at a future date," Abigail Valte, a spokeswoman of Philippine President Benigno Aquino, said in Manila.

Obama's cancellation was seen as a blow to Washington's steady rebuilding of ties with the Philippines as part of its strategic rebalancing of military and commercial ties towards Asia. Washington is helping to upgrade the Philippines' ill-equipped military, and is in talks for an agreement on establishing a rotational presence of U.S. forces there.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has launched a $1.8 billion modernization program and revived plans to build new air and naval bases at Subic Bay, the largest U.S. military installation in Southeast Asia before it was shuttered in 1992.

(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco in Manila; Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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