Australian Prime Minister John Howard gave an impassioned defense of the war against terror as an ideological struggle against a determined enemy and said his country's relationship with the US is better than it ever has been.
The Australian leader also reasserted his support for the US-led military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and praised his populous neighbor Indonesia's rapid ascent into a full-fledged democracy.
Ahead of his meeting Tuesday with President George W. Bush, Howard made the rounds in Washington on Monday.
He met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan; chaired a meeting of the International Democratic Union, which comprises 70 conservative and center-right political parties; and later spoke to the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Australian Association.
The speech in the Chamber of Commerce's ornate downtown headquarters came four years late: he was to have spoken there on Sept. 11, 2001, but flew home instead after the terror attacks and invoked the mutual-defense ANZUS treaty for the first time in its 50-year history.
In speaking of Australian-US relations and of the anti-terror campaign, Howard appeared to be rebutting a report issued by a British think tank that blamed close British ties with Washington for spurring terrorist attacks on Britain. Howard had been asked about the report earlier during a news conference with Rumsfeld.
Howard said he takes credit for helping create relations between Australia and the US that are better than they ever have been.
"I believe that the relations between Australia and the United States will grow ever closer as the years go by," Howard said. "And that association and that friendship will grow without prejudice to the very important linkages that Australia has with different parts of the world."
Howard said the phenomenon of terror in recent years, especially Muslim extremism, is based on ideology and is not a fight of the have-nots against the haves.
"Those who see the resurgence of terrorism as simply the manifestation of the divide between the rich and the poor, the outcry of the distressed and the downtrodden, misunderstand the character of the challenge that our societies face," Howard said.
"The terrorist challenge is based upon a perverted and totally invalid depiction of a great religion. We are fighting an ideology. We are not simply dealing with an outburst of legitimate anger against economic deprivation."
Earlier Monday, at his joint news conference with Rumsfeld, Howard said that "Australia was a terrorist target long before the Iraq operation. We were a terrorist target before Sept. 11, 2001."
A broader issue, he said, "is that no country can allow its foreign and defense policy to be malleable in the hands of terrorists."
He reaffirmed Australia's commitment to the US-led military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, even though in Iraq, "the insurgency remains challenging."
Nevertheless, "progress is being made," he said. "It is inevitable that on every way station toward the full democratization process in Iraq there's going to be a spike in the level of the insurgency."
Just last week, Howard said he would send 150 elite troops to Afghanistan by September to help quell insurgent violence ahead of legislative elections. Australia now has one soldier in Afghanistan, a mine-clearance specialist, but has 1,400 troops in and around Iraq.