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Beazley on the alliance

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15 April 2010 08:47

The ABC's Kerry O'Brien has been in Washington to interview President Obama. The full 20 minutes will air tonight, but here's O'Brien previewing it on ABC Radio National this morning.

O'Brien also took the opportunity to interview Australia's Ambassador to Washington, former Labor leader and Defence Minister Kim Beazley. This section is intriguing:

KERRY O'BRIEN: But are you saying that the Americans - when you say they're cheerful, you're saying that there is no sense of an American mood that feels Australia could do more?

KIM BEAZLEY: No. They've - Australia's done a fair bit more. They fully comprehend that we're engaged elsewhere, and that the heavy focus in Australian Defence spending in the long term is sort of maritime, not counter-insurgency. And so the Americans understand that we're contributing heavily. The ball's really in their court. They've gotta work out how they are just to deal if the Dutch ultimately go down the road they're apparently going down, how they adjust to provide the sorts of enablers that the Dutch had been providing so the Australian effort can continue.

KERRY O'BRIEN: When President Obama does visit Australia, what are the issues that you would isolate that are the trickiest issue for the relationship, the issues that need the most work?

KIM BEAZLEY: They're not too many, to be frank. We're - on the major commitments like Afghanistan we're seeing eye to eye.

It's helpful to watch the interview to see just how emphatic Beazley's 'No' is in response to that first question. And has any Australian minister or official said quite so bluntly ('The ball's really in their court') that it is up to the Americans to deal with a Dutch withdrawal from Oruzgan?

Then there's that striking reference to Australia's maritime focus. Beazley seems to be saying that the Rudd Government has convinced Washington that, for Australia, Afghanistan is secondary to the longer-term goal of building up our maritime forces. Beazley reinforces this point by breezily saying that Australia and the US have few points of disagreement, even on Afghanistan.

Of course, you wouldn't expect an ambassador to tell the media that the Americans are actually quite upset with us. But if Beazley's characterisation is right, it suggests the Government has done a fairly good job of selling its Defence White Paper in Washington. The Obama Administration's apparent acceptance of this maritime agenda might even reflect its own thinking about strategic priorities.

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