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Australian PM 'Stand Firms' Behind US-Afghan War Strategy

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, center, flanked by Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, (l), and Senate President Pro Tempore Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, (r), is applauded as she prepares to address a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard reaffirmed her support for the war in Afghanistan and pledged cooperation with the United States on issues in the Asia-Pacific region during an address to the U.S. Congress.

Gillard delivered what she called a "simple message" as she became the first head of state to address Congress since new members were elected in November.

"A message which has been true in war and peace. A message which has been true in hardship and prosperity, in the Cold War and in the new world. A message I repeat to you today. Distinguished members of the Senate and the House, you have a true friend down under”"

The Australian prime minister said she stands firm in support of the U.S.-led strategy in the decade-long war against the Taliban and is "cautiously optimistic" about the future of Afghanistan.

"We know the transition will take some years. We must not transition out only to transition back in."

Australia is the strongest non-NATO U.S. ally, with more than 1,500 troops in Afghanistan.

Gillard also pledged cooperation in the Asia Pacific region, where she said the global order is changing the most. She acknowledged both countries' complex relationship with China, but said the United States should not fear China's rapid growth as it bares the burden of its own tough economic times.

"There is no reason for Chinese prosperity to detract from prosperity in Australia, the United States or anywhere else in the world," said Gillard.

In a direct appeal to lawmakers, Prime Minister Gillard urged them to make tough economic reforms and to pass legislation opening the door for more free trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

"We know the equation is simple. Trade equals jobs, a very simple equation."

The Australian prime minister also noted what she called the "momentous" upheaval in the Middle East, and pledged her alliance with the United States in condemning Iran's nuclear program, and in a call for an Israeli-Palestinian resolution.

Gillard is wrapping up a three-day trip to Washington - her first since becoming Australia's first female prime minister last year. She meet this week with President Barack Obama and several key Cabinet members, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.