- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

The United States and Australia yesterday reaffirmed their 50-year-old security alliance but failed to reach an agreement on talks that would produce a bilateral free-trade pact.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, in his first meeting with President Bush, tried to persuade him to begin trade talks before Australia's next election, which is expected to take place in November.

But the Bush administration, while backing the proposal in principle, is focused on securing trade promotion authority, which would allow it to conclude trade deals without congressional approval.

"We understand for domestic political reasons … it is not possible to make an in-principle commitment to the negotiation of that agreement during my visit," Mr. Howard told reporters at the White House. "But I have no doubt we will return to the issue."

He said U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile would meet to discuss the pact before the end of the year.

Because no progress was expected on the issue at this time, last week Mr. Howard decided to cut short his visit to Washington by four days. He had planned to stay 10 days.

Yesterday, he also met with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

Today, Mr. Howard is scheduled to speak at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

He will address a joint session of Congress tomorrow before flying to New York.

At a ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard yesterday, Mr. Bush presented Mr. Howard with a 250-pound bell from the now-decommissioned U.S. warship USS Canberra.

The two leaders marked the 50th anniversary of the Australia-New Zealand-U.S. military alliance, which was signed after World War II when Washington and Canberra feared the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.

"In the century just passed, Australians served side-by-side with Americans in every major military commitment," Mr. Bush said. "In peaceful times, like our own, the alliance between our two nations has helped spare the world from other wars and dangers."

Australia led an international peacekeeping effort in East Timor in 1999 after militia violence erupted following the territory's vote for independence from Indonesia.

The United States provided diplomatic support and military logistics but was reluctant to get involved more heavily just three months after the war in Kosovo.

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