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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 May, 2003, 20:39 GMT 21:39 UK
Bush praises Australian PM's 'courage'
Australian and US leaders John Howard and George W Bush
George Bush and John Howard praised each other's stance on Iraq

US President George W Bush has thanked Australia for its support over the invasion of Iraq and praised Prime Minister John Howard as a "man of courage".

He also said he hoped the United States and Australia would be able to negotiate a free trade agreement by the end of the year.

Mr Bush has been playing host to Mr Howard and wife Janette at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Mr Howard's decision to send around 2,000 Australian troops to Iraq sparked mass protests around the country.

At one point, he was even forced to leave his official residence on foot when protesters barricaded the entrances.

But the number of people attending anti-war demonstrations began to dwindle and Mr Howard's popularity soared.

Mutual praise

"He understands the responsibilities of freedom. America is really grateful for the sacrifices of the Australian people and the leadership," said Mr Bush at a joint press conference at his ranch.

Howard and Bush
A free trade agreement between US and Australia is being negotiated

"The prime minister is a man of courage," he added.

In turn, Mr Howard heaped praise on Mr Bush for "the leadership that you gave to the world, at times under very great criticism, at times fighting very great obstruction. But you had a resolute, clear view of what had to be done."

Mr Bush used the conference to reiterate his conviction that American troops would eventually find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

And he also said former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, was not co-operating with the US forces who are holding him captive.

Mr Howard has long been pushing for a free trade agreement, and Australia has frequently complained about US farm subsidies.

Trade pact

Mr Bush told the press conference: "I'm firmly committed to an FTA (free trade agreement) with Australia."

He said he wanted a deal by the end of the year for presentation to the US Congress in 2004, adding that he was assured American officials were working hard on the deal.

"I believe we can get it done, and I think it would be an important step in our relationship," Mr Bush said.

"Amen to that," responded Mr Howard.

Mr Howard is the latest in an exclusive group of world leaders to be invited to Mr Bush's ranch - following in the footsteps of fellow war supporters UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

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