Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is on his way to the United States to discuss security, foreign policy and climate change.  Mr. Rudd will go on to meet European Union leaders in Brussels and NATO representatives at its summit in Bucharest.  The Labor leader's first major diplomatic trip since winning election last November will also include a visit to China.  From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat, has started a marathon 17-day, 45,000 kilometer trip around the world.

The fight against extremism will feature strongly, as will trade and the global credit crisis when the Australian leader meets President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and China's President Hu Jintao.

Mr. Rudd will also talk with the U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke and World Bank President Robert Zoellick.

Before beginning his trip, Mr. Rudd said Australia would pursue an increasingly vigorous foreign policy during his three-year term.

In the United States, he is expected to discuss plans to withdraw Australia's combat forces from Iraq in the next few months. Despite the Iraq withdrawal, Canberra remains committed to the military campaign in Afghanistan, and Mr. Rudd is expected to urge more support for that effort when he meets with leaders of the NATO alliance nations next week.

At an East Asia forum in Sydney, he said his government will take a more active role in global issues, including financial stability, climate change and security.

"The truth is Australia's voice has been too quiet for too long across the various councils of the world," he said, "that is why during the course of the next three years, the world will see an increasingly activist Australia, an increasingly activist Australian foreign policy in areas where we believe we may be able to make a positive difference."

Kevin Rudd's first formal act as prime minister late last year was to sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. He also has committed Australia to improving development in impoverished parts of the South Pacific.

Mr. Rudd's government also is pushing for reform of the United Nations to reflect the rise of India and Japan.

The Australian leader plans to meet U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York to urge changes that give Japan and India permanent seats on the Security Council.