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Last Updated: Monday, 26 November 2007, 11:24 GMT
Australia shifts course, away from US
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent BBC News website

Australian troops on patrol in Iraq
Australian combat troops are likely to be withdrawn from Iraq

Australia's incoming Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will steer a course that puts some distance between Australia and the United States under President George W Bush.

Mr Rudd's two major foreign policy initiatives will both highlight differences with the Bush administration.

Firstly, the new Australian leader will sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Perhaps more importantly, given that Kyoto has to be followed by a new agreement, he will himself go to the meeting in Bali next month that will launch negotiations for a post-Kyoto plan.

Secondly, Mr Rudd is expected to withdraw the 550 Australian combat troops from Iraq.

Mr Bush lost the last of his big supporters in the war on Iraq when John Howard went down to a landslide defeat, joining the former Spanish and British Prime Ministers Jose Maria Aznar and Tony Blair.

End of era

It is the end of an era as far as Iraq policy goes, with American allies keen to get out and the United States itself looking for a solution that will enable it to reduce its troop levels significantly.

However, in another area of combat, Afghanistan, there have been suggestions that the new Australian government might even increase the numbers of its troops there from the current level of about 1,000.

Australian special forces are in a frontline role and a commando was killed on the eve of the election, the third Australian death in recent weeks.

Many Western governments have drawn a distinction between sending troops to Afghanistan and sending them to or keeping them in Iraq. They regard Afghanistan as an allied operation with a clear objective - to prevent the Taleban from returning to power in a country where it allowed al-Qaeda the freedom to plan its attacks.

Global warming

The new Australian policy on global warming will present Mr Rudd with some policy difficulties. Australia is a major per capita producer of greenhouse gases, and exports coal to China. China itself is building coal-fired power stations and, according to the British Foreign Office's climate change ambassador, John Ashton, a reduction in China's pollution output is one of the main targets in the climate control campaign.

Mr Rudd himself said about his attendance in Bali: "It would be a way of indicating... that we intend to be globally, diplomatically active."

Coal terminal in Queensland, Australia
Australia, a major coal exporter, will sign up to the Kyoto climate treaty

His own ability to speak Mandarin, learned when he was a diplomat, will perhaps help in persuading the Chinese leadership of the merits of the climate change case. But China's problems in meeting its energy demand (fuelled partly by a worldwide demand for its products) - and its need to feed a billion mouths a day - has driven its policy of buying up worldwide resources and it is hard to see this changing.

India and uranium

One area of policy that could lead Mr Rudd into diplomatic conflict is the supply of uranium to India.

The government of John Howard agreed earlier this year to change its policy of not supplying India, which is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and which has built its own nuclear weapons.

Mr Rudd is expected to go back to the policy of refusing to sell uranium to any country not in the NPT.

This in itself might conflict with Australia's new commitment to control global warming, as nuclear power is one way of reducing greenhouse gases.


Another signal about Australia's intention to change its policies is that Mr Rudd is likely to make a formal apology to the country's indigenous people, the Aborigines.

This is something that Mr Howard refused to do.

And it is likely to reinforce those campaigns around the world that want apologies for other colonial and historic policies.

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