Obama heads to Australia to reframe security ties

Obama wants to stress important economic and strategic
ties between Australia and the United States
© AFP/Getty Images/File Kevork Djansezian

AFP

HONOLULU, Hawaii (AFP) – US President Barack Obama lands in Australia Wednesday on a twice-postponed mission to update a 60-year-old security alliance for a new century marked by the rise of China.

Obama on Tuesday leaves his native Hawaii, where he presided over a summit which expanded entry talks on a new pan-Pacific trade deal, for a 5,000-mile (8,000-kilometer) Air Force One flight to the Australian capital Canberra.

The visit is expected to include an announcement on new basing and supply arrangements for US forces in a clear statement by Washington that it intends to stand up for its interests and allies in a fast-emerging region.

Obama, who is seeking to reorient security policy towards Asia as the United States transitions out of Iraq and Afghanistan, wants to stress important economic and strategic ties between Australia and the United States.

After he arrives on Wednesday, Obama will meet Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and take part in a joint press conference before addressing parliament on Thursday in what aides said is the “anchor speech” of his tour.

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The leaders will also stress education, a political priority for both of them, during a visit to a school in Canberra, mirroring a joint trip they made to Washington area school kids when Gillard was at the White House in March.

On Thursday, Obama heads to Darwin, where he is expected to announce a significant escalation of military cooperation that will likely see US Marines deploy to a new Australian base.

“Australia made overtures to the United States to increase our engagement with the armed forces of Australia and our utility of the training facilities, ranges, and so forth that are there,” said Admiral Robert Willard, commander of US Pacific Command.

“That was unprecedented, and we’re very grateful for that overture,” he said, leaving any announcements about future US force deployments to Obama.

While Washington appears to be sending a signal to China and its expanding military with its deployment in Australia, the White House also wants to extend its capability to deploy to disaster response missions in southeast Asia.

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US and Australian forces have served shoulder-to-shoulder in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and US intelligence services retain a secret listening post at Pine Gap in the Australian outback.

Obama, who is facing a tough reelection campaign next year amid high unemployment and economic gloom, has twice been forced to postpone plans to visit Australia because of domestic political crises.

His political aides would probably prefer that he had stayed at home this time as his populist assault on Republicans blocking his job creation plans finally appears to be gaining some political traction.

But in an attempt to synergize political imperatives with foreign policy, aides are billing Obama’s Pacific tour as an attempt to pry open the regional markets which will be crucial to America’s economic future.

Obama is also hugely popular in Australia and is assured a warm welcome that may provide some relief to a president whose image has been battered by three brutal years trying to drive his agenda through deeply partisan Washington.

His deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama regretted that his stay Down Under would be so short — just one night — and that he would miss out on visiting the country’s great coastal cities.

“This is the double-edged sword of presidential travel,” said Earnest, adding that Obama got to see “amazing places” that most Americans could not visit — but then spent much of the time in meetings.

At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hawaii on Sunday, Australia joined the United States and 10 other nations in launching landmark talks on better integrating dynamic Asia-Pacific economies.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which does not include China, is seen by the United States as a way of building a regional economic architecture that will promote free political systems and open trade.

Obama will become the fifth US president to visit Australia, following Lyndon Johnson, George Bush, Bill Clinton and his immediate predecessor George W. Bush.

© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license

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