British to renew Australian defence ties

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague


Jan 14 (KATAKAMI.COM / THE AGE.COM.AU) — British Foreign Secretary William Hague says his nation has neglected its relationship with Australia during the past two decades.

Mr Hague will join UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox, as well as Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Defence Minister Stephen Smith, in Sydney next Tuesday for the third Australia-UK ministerial talks, known as AUKMIN.

It will be the first visit to Australia by British cabinet ministers since David Cameron’s government took office in May.

Mr Hague said on his video blog Britain needed a strong relationship with “dynamic economies” such as Australia and New Zealand, which will host the two ministers late next week.

But the previous Blair and Brown Labor governments had neglected the relationship, with the last foreign secretary to visit being Douglas Hurd in 1994.

“I will be the first (British) foreign secretary for nearly 20 years to go to Australia,” Mr Hague said.

“So I think there has been a little bit of ministerial neglect that we are going to put right.”

Mr Hague said his top priority was the mission in Afghanistan, which involves 9500 British and 1550 Australian troops.

“Right at the top of the list is our work in Afghanistan to improve security and hopefully to bring to Afghan leadership a political process alongside the military work to bring lasting security and stability,” he said.

The talks also will focus on three other issues: changing power dynamics in Asia, particularly China; strategic cooperation, including intelligence sharing, cyberspace and the relationship with the US; and global counter-terrorism.

There is also expected to be a discussion over lunch on national security structures, the Middle East and Iran and nuclear proliferation.

The meeting is not expected to approve a new cooperation treaty but a number of defence documents will be signed, sources close to the talks say.

It will be the first AUKMIN to be held in Australia, with the previous one held in Leeds in November 2008. (*)


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