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Senior US Diplomat Brushes Aside Differences With Australia Over Iraq, Climate Change

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns has predicted that the close alliance between Washington and Australia will continue under the new Rudd government despite differences over Iraq and climate change. Burns is in Canberra for talks with the new leadership. Australia's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq has been a major point of discussion. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

A few days after being sworn into office Australia's new government has held high-level talks with one of Washington's most senior diplomats.

U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, has met Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and the Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Canberra's plan to withdraw its combat forces from Iraq by the middle of next year has dominated discussions.

Burns said Washington respected Australia's decision and hoped it would still be able to help the United States rebuild Iraq's economy and political institutions.

Australia's ratification this week of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change has further isolated the U.S., which refuses to sign the agreement.

Despite differences over Iraq and the environment, Burns says he expects the "excellent relationship" that exists between Australia and the United States to continue.

"I think there's so much that unites our two countries," he said. "The discussions I've had have been very positive across the board in both directions and I've conveyed a great deal of interest from Washington in getting to know the new leadership. I expect us to have excellent relations. And I also expect, as with any two democratic allies, there'll be issues on which we disagree and that's the way life goes and the way democratic governments interact with each other."

Burns has also discussed Washington's recent diplomatic efforts to achieve a new United Nations Security Council resolution against Iran.

The U.S. is hoping Australia will boost its military commitment to Afghanistan after its Iraq pullout.

The Rudd government has expressed its support for the campaign against militants in Afghanistan.

Both Prime Minister Rudd and foreign minister Smith plan to visit the United States next year.

Mr. Rudd has insisted that close relations with the Americans remain central to Australia's foreign policy.