Australian Prime Minister John Howard has reassured his close ally George W. Bush that he will keep his country’s troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future. Its a key political issue for both men. Australia has 15 hundred personnel in Iraq and there is strong popular pressure for them to be withdrawn. The issue features prominently in Howard’s bid for re-election:
“In our discussions I made it very clear to the President that our commitment to Iraq remains, Australian forces will remain at their present levels in Iraq, not based on any calendar but based on conditions on the ground.”, he told reporters.
Meanwhile the US President remains confident in the face of a showdown with Congress over the issue, as well as the imminent publication of a progress report into the recent troop surge:
“If I didn’t think we could succeed I wouldn’t have our troops there. As the commander-in-chief of our military, I cannot commit US troops into combat unless I am convinced it is worth it, important to the security of the United States and we can meet our objectives.”
Bush was one of the first leaders to arrive in Australia for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Summit. He is expected to hold a series of bi-lateral meetings with leaders of some of the 21 states involved. Observers say trade and climate change are likely to top the agenda.