Afghan Focus In Talks With Gates

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
The Australian
February 23, 2008 By Patrick Walters, National security editor
THE growing uncertainty over the future of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan will dominate today's Australia-US ministerial consultations in Canberra, attended by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
Mr Gates arrived in Canberra late yesterday to attend the one-day gathering, accompanied by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon will host the meeting, which is the key annual strategic dialogue between the two countries.
The US delegation includes the US's top soldier, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and the Commander of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy Keating.
Senior government sources said the meeting would also examine long-running security issues in the Asia-Pacific region, including North Korea and the recent political crisis in East Timor, as well as developments in the global struggle against Islamist terror.
Mr Gates will also update his Australian counterparts on Iraq, Iran's nuclear program and his talks with NATO leaders about the way ahead in Afghanistan as Australia seeks greater access to NATO planning strategy.
Mr Fitzgibbon will attend the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, at which a new civil-military strategy for Afghanistan is expected to be agreed on.
Another key issue for the Australian side today will be defence procurement, including the status ofthe F-35 joint strike fighter program, as well as access to the giant US defence market by Australian firms.
Mr Fitzgibbon yesterday confirmed that a new defence white paper would be completed by late this year, led by Mike Pezzullo, the Defence Department's deputy secretary in charge of strategy.