By Jane Morse
IIP Staff Writer
20 November 2013
Australia and the United States are expanding cooperation in areas concerning defense and space, U.S. officials said at a November 20 press briefing after consultations with their Australian counterparts at the annual Australia-U.S. ministerial meeting.
Secretary of State John Kerry said both governments agreed to a nonbinding statement of principles that will guide a force posture agreement to be negotiated in December.
The initial force posture initiative with Australia was announced during President Obama’s trip to Australia in 2011. Under the agreement so far, two companies of Marines have rotated through Darwin and the number of joint exercises between both countries’ air forces has increased. According to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, starting in 2014, the U.S. Marine rotational force near Darwin will expand to 1,100 Marines.
“These ongoing rotational deployments to Australia are important to making U.S. military presence in Asia-Pacific more geographically distributed, operationally resilient and also politically sustainable,” Hagel said. “It’ll also help strengthen our capacity and the capacity of our partners in the region, like humanitarian assistance disaster relief efforts currently underway … in the Philippines.
Hagel also said both sides agreed “to expand our situational awareness in space.” Hagel said he and Australian Defence Minister Johnston earlier signed an agreement to relocate an advanced space surveillance telescope to Western Australia. “This telescope,” Hagel said, “provides highly accurate detection, tracking and identification of deep space objects and will further strengthen our existing space cooperation.”
The Australia–United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) have been held most years since 1985. These meetings serve as the main annual forum for consultations between the two countries and involve the Australian ministers for foreign affairs and defense and the U.S. secretaries of state and defense. This year, Australia was represented by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister David Johnston.
Kerry said the U.S.-Australia partnership extends well beyond the Asia- Pacific region. For example, both countries are working to reach a political solution to the conflict in Syria. In addition, both countries, he said, are working to resolve the long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as reach “a constructive and acceptable agreement” with respect to the threat of a nuclear weapon in Iran.
“We agreed on each of these,” Kerry said, “that diplomacy is always the preferred approach, and that it’s important to exhaust the remedies and possibilities of diplomacy.”
Regarding Iran, Kerry said: “We have the best chance we’ve had in a decade, we believe, to halt progress and roll back Iran’s program. And I made clear to our friends from Australia, as I have made clear to my former colleagues in meetings on Capitol Hill over this last week, we will not allow this agreement, should it be reached — and I say should it be reached — to buy time or to allow for the acceptance of an agreement that does not properly address our core fundamental concerns.”
In their comments to the press, officials from both sides emphasized the bonds forged in friendship and with blood. “Our forces have fought side by side in every conflict in which we have been engaged,” Bishop said, noting that both she and Johnston were “deeply moved” at the wreath-laying ceremony held earlier that day at Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place for thousands of U.S. military veterans.
“When Secretary Hagel and I served in Vietnam,” Kerry said, “both of us remember well that we fought alongside our Australian brothers. In fact, American and Australian men and women have fought together in every major conflict since World War I.”
“The United States could ask for no better friend and no closer ally than Australia,” Kerry said. “We really look forward to continuing our work side by side over the years to come.”