- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

SYDNEY, Australia — A 24-hour visit by President Bush to the Australian capital next week is being billed as a chance to thank Australia for sending troops to fight against Saddam Hussein.

Prime Minister John Howard said he is willing to consider any requests for hosting permanent U.S. bases, if asked.

The centerpiece of Mr. Bush’s visit will be an address to Parliament.

Antiwar parliamentarians plan to stand up wearing white armbands and turn their backs on Mr. Bush while he makes his 30-minute speech.

“I’m showing no disrespect to the position of the U.S. president. What I’m showing is disrespect for the man himself and what he represents for many of us in the peace movement,” lawmaker Harry Quick told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The Oct. 22-23 stop is part of Mr. Bush’s tour of the region coinciding with the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Thailand.

Newspoll, prior to the outbreak of war in March, showed that an overwhelming 76 percent of Australians were against a war with Iraq without sanction from the United Nations.

However, when Australian troops came through unscathed after official hostilities ended, the popularity of the prime minister jumped to 57 percent from 48 percent before the war.

Australia now has only 800 troops in Iraq out of a total of 2,000, and none of them in combat roles.

Experts say that Mr. Howard has gained much in the war on terror by giving little.

The presidential visit is expected to boost efforts to negotiate a bilateral free- trade agreement between the two nations.

Michael Delaney, special adviser on the U.S.-Australia trade talks, said the recent failure of the World Trade Organization talks in Mexico had made Washington even more determined to pursue moves to liberalize world trade.

“We aim to achieve this by initiating a series of ambitious regional and bilateral trade deals including a [free-trade agreement] with Australia,” Mr. Delaney said at a food industry conference in Canberra recently.

Two-way annual trade between the United States and Australia — two of the world’s biggest agricultural exporters — totals about $20 billion.

Australia, a key exporter of beef, grain and sugar, wants greater access to the huge U.S. market for its farm goods, cars and shipbuilding, while Washington wants Australia to ease its quarantine rules and review local content for TV.

Another round of talks is due to take place in Canberra on Oct. 27.

Scheduled to speak a day after Mr. Bush, Chinese President Hu Jintao will be the first unelected leader to be given that honor in the hallowed halls of Parliament House.

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