WASHINGTON: The United States holds high-level security talks with Australia on Thursday as the longtime allies find a new convergence of views on the need to abolish nuclear weapons.
Afghanistan and North Korea’s long-range missile test will also figure high on the agenda for the full-day annual meeting, which brings together the two countries’ foreign affairs and defense chiefs.
The session marks the first substantive talks between the Pacific nations since US President Barack Obama held a warm first summit with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the White House two weeks ago.
The talks “will cover, in depth, a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Wednesday after meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.
“We have few better friends in the world than Australia.”
Smith said the alliance between Australia and the United States has “served us very well for over 60 years.”
“It’s an indispensable part of our strategic security and defense arrangements,” he added.
Smith and Clinton will be joined in Thursday’s talks by Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The talks come days after Obama delivered a major speech in Prague where he laid out a vision for a world without nuclear weapons.
The speech was likely music to the ears of Rudd — described by some analysts as a “political soulmate” to Obama — who last year charted out his own path for nuclear disarmament.
Smith and Fitzgibbon, in a statement before heading to the US capital, described Obama’s speech as “landmark.”
They said the Washington talks “will include Australia and the United States’ shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.”
Rudd last year set up a commission on nuclear disarmament with Japan after he visited Hiroshima, where more than 140,000 people died in the world’s first nuclear attack.
“Hiroshima reminds us of the terrible power of these weapons,” Rudd said at the time.
“And we must be committed to the ultimate objective of a nuclear weapons-free world,” he said, in words echoed a year later by Obama.
Rudd set up a commission of experts co-chaired by Australia and Japan who will seek to lay the groundwork for next year’s review conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The last review conference of the treaty in 2005 ended in disarray, with then US president George W. Bush’s administration unenthusiastic about entering international commitments on disarmament.
Obama has sharply changed course, saying he will ask the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bars any nuclear explosions for any purpose around the world.
But a number of countries remain holdouts to the test ban treaty, among them China, India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan.
Rudd had visibly uneasy relations with Bush, a close ally of the previous conservative Australian prime minister John Howard.
The four ministers are expected to discuss the campaign to root out extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan — a key priority for the Obama administration.
European nations offered more than 3,500 troops during Obama’s tour to join the effort to help stem a tenacious Taliban-led insurgency.
Australia has some 1,100 troops in Afghanistan. Rudd has pledged that Australia will stay in Afghanistan “for the long haul” but has stayed reticent on whether he would commit more troops.