La­bor leader says he will tell U.S. be­fore Aus­tralia pull­out from Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Michael Keats

MELBOURNE, Aus­tralia — Robert McClel­land, who is fa­vored to be­come for­eign min­is­ter in Aus­tralia’s next gov­ern­ment, says his La­bor Party will pull its troops out of Iraq but only af­ter a process of con­sul­ta­tion with its al­lies.

“La­bor is not call­ing for a pre­cip­i­tous overnight with­drawal, and we are cer­tainly not go­ing to leave our Amer­i­can mates in the lurch,” Mr. McClel­land said in re­marks pro­vided to The Wash­ing­ton Times by e-mail.

With par­lia­men­tary elec­tions be­ing held Nov. 24, Prime Min­is­ter John Howard’s long-rul­ing con­ser­va­tive coali­tion re­mains 10 points be­hind the op­po­si­tion La­bor Party and shows no signs of clos­ing the gap.

The latest Newspoll, taken just days af­ter vot­ers were hit with their sixth in­crease in in­ter­est rates in three years, showed La­bor had gained two per­cent­age points to lead the Lib­eral-Na­tional coali­tion by 55 per­cent to 45 per­cent.

The poll also showed 48 per­cent of vot­ers fa­vored La­bor leader Kevin Rudd for prime min­is­ter against 40 per­cent for Mr. Howard, who has been a loyal ally of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and a re­li­able sup­porter of its in­ter­na­tional poli­cies.

Eco­nomic is­sues have dom­i­nated the cam­paign, with only slight at­ten­tion to such mat­ters as the war in Iraq, con­flict in Afghanistan and cli­mate change — which sur­veys showed to be of ma­jor con­cern to Aus­tralians.

How­ever, a re­view of pub­lic re­marks by Mr. Rudd and his “shadow” for­eign min­is­ter, Mr. McClel­land, make clear that sub­tle changes are in store for the U.S.Aus­tralia re­la­tion­ship if La­bor pre­vails as ex­pected on Nov. 24.

In com­ments pro­vided to The Times, Mr. McClel­land, a 49-yearold Syd­ney lawyer and 11-year mem­ber of par­lia­ment, said a La­bor gov­ern­ment would con­tinue to sup­port the al­liance as it has for more than 65 years.

He said the re­la­tion­ship was a pil­lar of La­bor’s for­eign pol­icy along with mem­ber­ship in the United Na­tions and a “pol­icy of com­pre­hen­sive en­gage­ment with the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion [which is] as vi­tal to U.S. strate­gic and eco­nomic in­ter­ests as it is to Aus­tralia.”

La­bor voted in 2003 not to sup­port the in­va­sion of Iraq, and Mr. Rudd plans to with­draw the 550 com­bat troops sta­tioned there — “but only af­ter care­ful mil­i­tary plan­ning with our al­lies,” Mr. McClel­land said.

He said an Aus­tralian war­ship and air force sur­veil­lance and trans­port air­craft would re­main in Iraq, along with a 110-mem­ber se­cu­rity de­tach­ment in Bagh­dad.

“In ad­di­tion, we will pro­vide eco­nomic as­sis­tance and ex­per­tise in border se­cu­rity,” Mr. McClel­land said. “We will also con­trib­ute to vig­or­ous diplo­matic ef­forts to draw the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity — in­clud­ing Arab states — to find­ing a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the dis­as­ter that is Iraq.”

Aus­tralian fight­ing forces would con­tinue to serve in Afghanistan and a Rudd gov­ern­ment would re­dou­ble Aus­tralian ef­forts to “elim­i­nate the Tal­iban and al Qaeda by crack­ing down on the fi­nanc­ing of ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions through Afghanistan’s opium trade,” he said.

“La­bor rec­og­nizes you can’t deal with in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism if you don’t deal with the nar­cotics trade in Afghanistan.”

He ac­cused the Howard gov­ern­ment of “drop­ping the ball” in Afghanistan and said La­bor plans to re­cruit more Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice of­fi­cers to as­sist coun­ternar­cotics po­lice there — “as­sis­tance re­quested by our al­lies some 18 months ago.”

Aus­tralia would also co­op­er­ate more closely with the United States to “de­tect, dis­rupt and dis­man­tle drug-re­lated transna­tional threats in Asia and the Pa­cific.”

Mr. McClel­land said a La­bor gov­ern­ment would ap­point per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the Joint In­ter­a­gency Task Force West, which has ac­cess to and co­or­di­nates the ac­tiv­i­ties “of all of the sub­stan­tial U.S. mil­i­tary, polic­ing and intelligence agen­cies.”

The shadow min­is­ter also said that Aus­tralia’s re­fusal to rat­ify the Ky­oto Pro­to­col on re­duc­ing green­house gases had un­der­mined its cred­i­bil­ity on cli­mate change.

If elected on Nov. 24, a Rudd La­bor gov­ern­ment “would seek to im­me­di­ately re­dress this cred­i­bil­ity gap” and give Aus­tralia a “mean­ing­ful seat at the ta­ble” at the U.N. con­fer­ence on cli­mate change in Bali next month, he said.

Bloomberg News

Robert McClel­land, likely Aus­tralia’s next for­eign min­is­ter, as­sured The Wash­ing­ton Times that his La­bor Party would not “leave our Amer­i­can mates in a lurch.”

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