US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has praised Australia for helping the United States in the Middle East. Mike O'Sulivan reports, Rice and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer spoke at the Reagan Library during a visit to California.

Secretary Rice praised Australia for reaching out to Iranian officials ahead of US-Iranian talks in Baghdad May 28. The United States hopes Iran will cooperate with efforts to end sectarian violence in neighboring Iraq. US officials say they have traced lethal weapons in Iraq to Iranian sources.

Australia has diplomatic relations with Iran, while the United States does not, and Secretary Rice says Australian officials have been able to deliver messages directly to Tehran.

Rice and Downer spoke at a joint news conference after a private meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, outside Los Angeles. The secretary spoke of the long history of cooperation between the two countries.

"Australia and the United States have fought side by side in every major military engagement since World War I," said Condoleezza Rice. "And today, we are adapting our alliance to the challenges of the 21st century."

Australia took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and more than 1,500 Australian troops remain in the region. Downer praised President Bush for making tough decisions in the war on terrorism.

Rice and Downer were scheduled to visit the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton later Wednesday, and the high tech region of Silicon Valley in northern California Thursday.