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Tensions Rise Over Australia's Pre-Emptive Strike Policy Ahead of ASEAN Summit


Australia's prime minister says he is unlikely to sign a non-aggression pact with its Asian neighbors, despite his efforts to strengthen economic ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. John Howard is under pressure from ASEAN leaders to water down his policy allowing pre-emptive attack on terrorists on foreign soil if his country is threatened.

Prime Minister John Howard says he has no plans to sign a non-aggression agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Mr. Howard next week will attend the annual ASEAN summit in Laos. One of the principle aims of his trip is to begin negotiations on a free trade deal the 10 ASEAN nations.

Traditionally, countries seeking closer economic links with ASEAN have acceded to its treaty of amity and cooperation. Mr. Howard, however, said on Australian radio Friday that he had not been asked to do so.

"It is not the sort of treaty that we, being a non-ASEAN country, would normally sign," he said. "We're more interested in the substance of our relationship with the countries in the ASEAN region."

Mr. Howard repeatedly has said his government would attack militants overseas if they were planning to strike Australian interests and the host country refused to act.

That causes unease among Australia's Asian neighbors and those feelings continue to simmer ahead of the ASEAN meeting in Laos. Mr. Howard instituted the policy after a bomb attack in Bali two years ago killed dozens of Australian tourists, and other attacks and threats from Islamic militants based in Indonesia.

It is unclear, however, how the prime minister's statement will affect the mood of delegates at the ASEAN meeting.

Some members of the organization, including Indonesia, have asked for a clear statement from Australia backing the treaty that binds countries to renounce the use of force and respect the territorial integrity of ASEAN states.

They want support for the treaty as a prerequisite to any trade agreements with Australia.

This is the first time Australia has been invited the annual ASEAN summit.