Barack Obama’s trip to Australia in March is an opportunity to strengthen ties between the two nations and a chance for the charismatic president to bond with members of the Australian government and its people.
“This trip is an important part of the President’s continued effort to broaden and strengthen the partnerships that are necessary to advance our security and prosperity,” says White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs.
The most important topic for President Obama to discuss with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is the global financial crisis and recovery, according to Carl Thayer, a regional security specialist at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. He says “Australia is waiting for an America distracted by its own economy to get on with a Free Trade Agreement. Australia would like to further push opening of the markets.”
John Higley, Director of the Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies at the University of Texas at Austin says the Afghan war, in which both nations are engaged, will be a topic of discussion between the two leaders. He says “the engagement of Australia in Afghanistan is not altogether popular among Australian voters.”
Thayer says Australia wants an “acceptable strategy and end game” in Afghanistan. He believes Australia wants to be in the war for its duration, but is reticent about committing more troops and is looking to the U.S. for reassurance that there is a plan to bring the war to a strategic, diplomatic and political conclusion.
Thayer notes bilateral relations are already “quite strong.” He says “the Labor government under Kevin Rudd is supporting the U.S. in Afghanistan and the Iraq war is no longer the irritant that it was. And larger issues have brought the two leaders together” at G-20 summits and at a face-to-face meeting at the White House. “So by all accounts there is good chemistry,” he says.
Higley’s advice to President Obama is to “do what he does naturally, which is to make himself visible in public, to deliver a spellbinding speech in Parliament, which will be heavily covered by the Australia media, and to stress the ties that bind the United States and Australia, which are multiple.”
This year marks the 70th anniversary of official relations between the United States and Australia.