Wed, Mar 09, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Gillard meets spy chiefs, Clinton in US

AP, WASHINGTON

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday was to meet with US business leaders, spy chiefs and the top US diplomat to cement strong ties with “great mate” America after getting a warm welcome at the White House.

US President Barack Obama declared Monday that the US has “no stronger ally than Australia” when he received Gillard, who also is to address a joint session of US Congress during her weeklong US visit.

The two leaders pledged mutual cooperation in the increasingly important Asia-Pacific region and in the war in Afghanistan, where Australia’s 1,550-troop deployment is the US’ largest non-NATO partner. They also pledged a united front against violence in the Middle East.

Yesterday, she was to address the US Chamber of Commerce, meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and mark the centennial of International Women’s Day. She was to meet in the early afternoon with US intelligence chiefs.

As Australia’s first woman prime minister, Gillard is making her inaugural official visit to Washington since ousting her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, in a party leadership challenge last year.

Gillard and Obama showed an easy rapport on Monday, trading jokes on the “love-it-or-hate-it” Australian breakfast spread Vegemite, and even the convict origin of many of Australia’s first migrants from Britain.

Gillard described the US and Australia as “great mates.” Obama identified a shared commitment to democracy and a pioneer spirit as underpinning their alliance, which may deepen as Washington looks to strengthen its engagement in the Asia-Pacific, an economically thriving region where both nations eye China’s rising stature with a degree of caution.

Alongside Obama, Gillard said: “There is so much more to do together in the future, including cooperating as America looks at its force posture.”

She did not elaborate.

Thom Woodroofe, an Australia-based associate fellow with the Asia Society, said Gillard’s visit showed the continued centrality of the US alliance to Australian foreign policy thinking and would be keenly watched back home, although he anticipated no major results from it. He said that Gillard would be the fourth Australian prime minister to address a joint session of Congress.

After that address today, she is to travel to New York, where she meets with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and visits the New York Stock Exchange.

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