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U.S.-Australian Meetings Ready to Begin

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CANBERRA, Australia, Feb. 22, 2008 – U.S. and Australian defense officials will work to strengthen the alliance between the two countries as part of the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations here this weekend.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets Australian Rear Adm. Raydon Gates in Canberra, Australia, Feb. 22, 2008. Mullen is visiting the continent to attend the 2008 Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen arrived in Australia’s capital today and immediately launched into meetings with his counterpart, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the chief of the country’s defense forces.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte arrive later today, and the formal ministerial gets under way tomorrow.

This year’s AUSMIN marks the 19th ministerial meeting between the two close allies. The meetings are part of the Australia, New Zealand, United States Treaty signed in 1951. “This year’s consultations afford us an opportunity to strengthen that relationship and renew the bonds of the alliance with the new government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd,” wrote Robert D. McCallum, the U.S. ambassador to Australia.

Rudd’s government took over Dec. 3. The Rudd government has ordered all Australian combat troops -- about one third of Australian forces in Iraq -- home by the end of June.

Australia will continue to train Iraqi troops in Australia, the air chief marshal said.

“The Australians have been great partners in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we understand the decision the people of Australia made in electing a new government with respect to Iraq,” Mullen said during a news conference at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, Feb. 20.

Australian troops have fought alongside U.S. troops since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. Australia also has supported Operation Enduring Freedom and is working with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. “We will continue to engage them, and my understanding is that they will continue to stay in Afghanistan,” Mullen said at Hickam. “They are great partners, and we need partners like that to address the problems that we have.”

The chairman said he looks forward to the meetings here and the opportunity to “talk with them about the challenges we face together.”

He said he is not disturbed about the Australian announcement on the country’s forces in Iraq. He said Australian military officials have worked closely with Multinational Force Iraq Commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus in the drawdown in the southern part of Iraq. “We’ve worked this with their Department of Defense,” he said. “We will clearly be able to sustain the kind of progress we’ve made even as they depart.”

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Adm. Mike Mullen, USN

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