The United States held its first talks with Australia's new government Wednesday, with a top official saying that the new prime minister's decisions to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and reduce the number of troops in Iraq will not chill relations between the two longtime allies.
US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns met with senior members of newly elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's government Wednesday. He told reporters the two nations would look at other ways in which Australia could support building stability in Iraq if troops were withdrawn. He also stressed Australia's right to make its own foreign policy decisions, and downplayed any stress Australia's troop withdrawal or climate stance would put on the US-Australia relationship.
"It is absolutely normal in a democratic relationship between allies that there should be differences on some issues. There are differences with Britain that we have, with France, with Germany, with Norway – our closest allies. And it is no surprise that there will be some here, but that does not take away from the fact that we are allies, that we have an extraordinarily close relationship in all ventures between Australia and the United States."
Rudd's immediate decision to ratify the Kyoto Protocol made waves Monday. It left the United States as the only developed nation not to have signed off on the emissions-limiting agreement.
Now observers are anxious to see how Canberra's proposed withdrawal of troops from Iraq will affect ties between the two allies.
Ahead of a visit to the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Prime Minister Rudd urged the US to join his country in ratifying the decade-old climate pact, the Associated Press reported.
"Our position vis-a-vis Kyoto is clear-cut, and that is that all developed and developing countries need to be part of the global solution. And therefore we do need to see the United States as a full-ratification state," the newly elected prime minister told the Southern Cross Broadcasting radio network in Australia.
Australia is Washington's most reliable ally – the only country, in fact, to fight alongside the US in every major conflict of the 20th and 21st centuries. It had been the only other developed nation to stand alongside the US decision to withhold ratification of Kyoto. Now that the two countries have parted ways on Kyoto, Iraq seems the next issue that will drive a wedge between them.
Former Prime Minister John Howard was among President George Bush's greatest supporters of the war. Rudd has said he would seek to withdraw roughly 500 of his country's combat troops from Iraq.
That move has been met from the US with measured support. The New York Times reminds that the move would be largely a symbolic one, as it would still leave more than 300 Australian support troops in Iraq. And it wouldn't put Iraqis in the areas occupied by exiting troops in a bad spot, either. Australia's top commander in the Middle East, Major-General Mark Evans, said the Iraqi Army is ready to "stand on its own two feet," The Age reported.
More telling of the shifting tide of US-Australian relations may be Canberra's enhanced interaction with China following Rudd's election. The Australian reported on a 20-minute conversation between Rudd and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (Rudd speaks fluent Mandarin) that may signify Australia's embrace of a leadership role in "creating a bridge between the aspirations of the developing world and developed nations."