Australian PM puts economics at top of agenda for first world trip
Canberra (AP): Prime Minister Kevin Rudd put Australia's economic interests at the top of his agenda Wednesday for a world trip that will also focus on his country's military deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Rudd leaves Thursday on the 17-day trip, which will take him to Washington, Brussels, Bucharest, London and Beijing.
Rudd told a university forum in Sydney on Wednesday that Australia's economic interests would dominate his first world trip as prime minister.
``In all the capitals I will visit, advancing Australia's economic interests will be at the top of the government's agenda,'' Rudd said in the speech, a draft of which was given to The Associated Press.
He said he would also discuss security policy, climate change, human rights and foreign aid with world leaders.
Ahead of his meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday, Rudd described the United States as ``an overwhelming force for good in the world'' and ``a crucial economic partner.''
Bush has said he hopes Rudd will reconsider an election promise to withdraw 550 combat troops _ about half of Australia's force in Iraq _ by the middle of this year. But Rudd, who was elected in November, has said he will keep the promise.
Rudd is closer to the U.S. position on Afghanistan and will attend a NATO summit in Bucharest to argue that some European countries should shoulder more of the burden in fighting insurgents there. Rudd's speech did not mention Iraq or Afghanistan.
Australia has 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, the largest number of any country outside NATO.
Australian National University political scientist Michael McKinley predicted that Bush would have little interest in discussing economics.
``Rudd also needs to make clear that Australia's interest in China as an important trading partner doesn't threaten its security relationship with the United States,'' McKinley said.
Australia has benefited from strong demand from the booming economies of China and India for Australian natural resources such as iron ore and coal.
Rudd said in his speech that progress toward a free trade agreement with China, Australia's most important trading partner, had been slow. He said he would use his visit to Beijing to urge the Chinese to redouble their negotiating efforts.