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Senior Australian, US Officials to Meet in Brisbane

FILE - Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese gestures during a community event in Sydney on May 23, 2023.
FILE - Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese gestures during a community event in Sydney on May 23, 2023.

SYDNEY - U.S. and Australian foreign affairs and defense officials will meet this week in Brisbane for annual talks. The Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations, or AUSMIN 2023, being held Saturday are expected to discuss the sale of submarines as part of the AUKUS alliance, the conflict in Ukraine, and security in the Pacific.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are due in Brisbane for talks with their Australian counterparts Saturday.

Blinken has been to New Zealand and Tonga this week as the U.S. intensifies diplomatic efforts to counter China's ambitions in the Pacific region. Blinken told reporters Wednesday in Tonga that "as China's engagement in the region has grown, there has been some, from our perspective, increasingly problematic behavior."

Talks with Australian officials are expected to be wide-ranging. Analysts believe that even though Britain is not attending the Brisbane conference, the AUSMIN 2023 talks will likely focus on the AUKUS alliance, a security pact among the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Announced in 2021, the AUKUS alliance plans to allow Australia to build a new multibillion-dollar fleet of nuclear-powered submarines with assistance from Washington and London.

However, a poll last month by the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based research organization, found that only about a quarter of Australians support the submarine deal, which could cost Australia up to $244 billion.

Arthur Sinodinos, the former Australian ambassador to the United States, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. On Thursday that the AUSMIN dialogue will cover many issues, including security and climate change.

"They begin with a framing of the issues in the region," he said. "So, there will be discussions around what is happening in U.S.-China relations, for example. There has been more outreach to the Philippines, for example, by the US in recent times. They will go on to talk about the progress with AUKUS reviewing the progress of legislation in the U.S. Congress on this and also one of the innovations from last year’s AUSMIN was the addition of talks on climate."

The ministerial talks in Brisbane are also expected to cover the war in Ukraine. Australia is one of the biggest non-NATO contributors to Kyiv’s war effort.

Australia has had to juggle its international relations. Historically, it has close cultural and social ties to the United Kingdom. Australia was settled by the British in 1788 and is a former colony. Economically, Australia’s recent prosperity has relied heavily on China, its biggest trading partner.

But Australia’s formal military pact with the United States, which dates back to the early 1950s, is widely considered to be the cornerstone of its national security.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is expected to announce a state visit to Washington soon, possibly in November.