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Rice, Australian Counterpart, Stress Amity Despite Iraq Pullout


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith Monday stressed the enduring nature of the two countries' alliance despite Australia's decision to remove troops from Iraq by mid-year. Smith said Australia's troop and diplomatic commitment to Afghanistan will continue. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Smith is the highest-level Australian official to visit Washington since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's center-left government took power in November, ending 12 years of conservative rule by John Howard, a close ally and friend of President Bush.

At a joint press appearance with Rice, the Australian Foreign Minister said he served notice on the Bush administration that the Canberra government will keep its campaign pledge to withdraw the 575-member Australian troop contingent from Iraq by the middle of the year.

But he said the pullout will occur in a way that would "absolutely minimize" problems for the U.S.-led coalition, and that Australia is ready to consider other ways of supporting Iraq's government

"This of course goes to aid matters, it goes to building Iraq's capacity in governance issues, in infrastructure and civilian activity," said Smith. "So we are sticking absolutely to the election commitment that we took to the Australian people."

"But I don't for one moment think that that in any way has any capacity to disturb either the good working relationship between the current administration and the new Australian government, nor to be anything of any significance in terms of a long-standing, enduring alliance, which will last in my view for many, many years to come," he added.

Smith said Australia's security commitment to Afghanistan, where it has about one thousand troops, will continue and that it will work with NATO countries among others to generate more support for Afghan reconstruction.

Rice for her part emphasized U.S. U.S. cooperation with Australia on Asian security matters, and said she will visit Australia, including Smith's hometown of Perth, sometime later this year.

The talks dealt with other issues of mutual concern, including Iran's nuclear program, with Rice tacitly admitting that the new draft U.N. sanctions resolution against Iran falls short of what the United States would have hoped for:

"It is no secret that a resolution of that kind is of course a negotiated product," said Rice. "And the important thing is that it both deepens the sanctions against Iran, and it opens the possibility of new directions like for instance, the cargo inspections."

"And so I think it is a very good resolution. But most importantly it is a resolution that will show Iran, that it continues to be isolated from the international community, that it has no friends when it comes to its desires to pursue technologies that could lead to a nuclear weapon," she continued.

U.S. officials hope the draft resolution, finalized last week in Berlin can be approved by the full council by the middle of February.

Smith said Australia supports U.S. efforts to apply "maximum pressure" on Iran to prompt it to end uranium enrichment, and said the Rudd government will consider, its own sanctions outside the U.N. framework.

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