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Bush Calls Australian PM to Discuss Iraq - 2002-09-07

President Bush has called Australian Prime Minister John Howard to discuss the U.S. position on Iraq. Mr. Bush's phone call is part of his sweep of world leaders ahead of next week's U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said President Bush told him Saturday that no decision has been made about a possible military strike to oust Iraqi Leader Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Howard told a Liberal Party convention in Queensland that he discussed with Mr. Bush Australia's belief that the United Nations should be involved in whatever action is taken to deal with the Iraqi threat. He said both men agreed they share an "abhorrence and distaste" for war.

The prime minister says Australia shares U.S. concerns about Iraq's continued defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions on nuclear weapons inspections, but he hoped the stand-off between Iraq and Washington could be resolved without military action.

Still the Australian leader said Washington can expect cooperation from its allies in trying to deal with Iraq. "This morning President Bush telephoned me to discuss the situation in relation to Iraq," he said. "It is not right, it is not appropriate, for all of the responsibility and all of the obligation to be seen to fall upon the United States."

The leader of the opposition Labor Party in Australia, Simon Crean, has accused John Howard of 'blindly' following the United States and has demanded a full debate.

Mr. Crean said it is crucial the prime minister be open and honest about Australia's possible participation in a military offensive. "The prime minister should ensure that he reports to the nation, to Parliament when we return in the next sitting fortnight and allows a full debate in Australia," he said.

Mr. Howard ended his speech in Queensland stressing the need for vigilance. He said the events of September 11 showed how vulnerable the most powerful nations could be to terrorism and other threats.