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Cheney Says Free Nations Cannot Allow Safe Havens for Terrorism

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney says that nations like the United States and Australia "simply cannot indulge" in the option of ignoring "safe havens" for terrorist groups around the world. Speaking in Sydney, he thanked Australia for standing with the U.S. in the war on terrorism. He also questioned China's commitment to peaceful expansion. Barry Kalb reports from VOA's Asian News Center in Hong Kong.

Despite the presence of small groups of protesters in the streets, Vice President Dick Cheney had a receptive audience Friday for a defense of the war on terrorism.

Australia under Prime Minister John Howard has been one of the Bush administration's strongest supporters in the terrorism battle. It has sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and Mr. Howard has consistently sided with President Bush's view that free nations must take the fight to the likes of al Qaida.

In a speech in Sydney, Cheney said Australia had earned the world's respect by joining the battle. He said turning away was not an option.

"The notion that free countries can turn our backs on what happens in places like Afghanistan, Iraq or any other possible safe haven for terrorists is an option that we simply cannot indulge," he said.

Mr. Howard faces elections within a year, and polls indicate that a majority of Australians now favors withdrawing the nation's troops from Iraq.

Still, Mr. Howard reiterated his support Friday for the Iraq military operation.

Cheney said leaving Iraq before domestic forces can handle security there would only encourage the terrorists.

"They believe we lack the resolve, and the courage, for a long struggle," he said. "And they are absolutely convinced that with enough acts of horror, they can wear us down, force us to change our policies, and get us to abandon our interests in the world."

Cheney also used the Sydney speech to question China's commitment to peace as it grows into an economic and military power. He said China's destruction of a space satellite with a missile on January 11 is "not consistent" with Beijing's "stated goal of a peaceful rise."

And he expressed hesitation about the recently concluded deal in the North Korea nuclear talks. As a preliminary measure, Pyongyang has agreed to shut down its nuclear reactor in return for donations of fuel oil.

President Bush has hailed the agreement as a step towards full North Korean nuclear disarmament. Cheney, however, is reported to be less enamored of the agreement, and he made his skepticism clear in Sydney. Given North Korea's tests last year of ballistic missiles and a nuclear explosive, Pyongyang, Cheney told his audience, "has much to prove."

The visit to Australia is the final stop in Cheney's Pacific tour this week, which included visits to Japan and the U.S. island of Guam.