The United States has sent a strong message to Australia that “tactical” differences on Kyoto and Iraq won't harm the enduring alliance between the two countries.
In a firm rebuff of claims by the former Howard government, senior US government official Nicholas Burns told reporters relations between the allies remained “exceptionally strong”.
“The alliance with Australia and the United States is one of our greatest international priorities to maintain,” said Mr Burns, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs.
During the past year, the Howard government repeatedly claimed Labor would damage relations between Australia and the US because of its plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq.
But just two days after being sworn in, several senior cabinet members met Mr Burns, one of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's most senior foreign affairs officers.
He was in Canberra for a sub-ministerial level meeting of the trilateral security dialogue between Australia, Japan and the United States, which had been organised months ago.
At US Ambassador Robert McCallum's residence, Mr Burns this morning met Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Agriculture Minister Tony Burke.
Yesterday's meeting followed discussions with Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
The ministers are understood to have impressed on Mr Burns the importance Labor places on the US alliance, which it has at the centre of its foreign policy agenda.
Labor plans to continue with the annual Ausmin meetings involving defence and foreign ministers from Australia and the US, which is expected to take place in Canberra next year.
Washington visits on agenda
And both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Mr Smith have indicated they will visit Washington at the earliest possible opportunity next year.
The pair will make their first overseas visit next week, when they attend the United Nations climate change conference in Bali.
Mr Smith is due to hold his first bilateral meeting with Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda, whom he spoke to by phone today.
Mr Burns, who leaves Australia tomorrow, indicated he would pass on his positive impressions of the new government to Washington.
“I am going to leave here tomorrow night with a very positive sense of this new government, an appreciation of the skill and professionalism of the new ministers,” he said.
Iraq was among a wide array of issues discussed during the meetings but Mr Burns said detailed talks on a withdrawal would wait for meetings between Mr Rudd and Mr McCallum, as well as discussions between defence officials in both countries.
Kyoto stance 'won't rock relationship'
And Mr Burns was at pains to stress that Australia's position on Iraq, as well as other differences like the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, would in no way damage the relationship.
“This alliance between Australia and the United States is exceptionally strong across the board,” he said.
“It will remain exceptionally strong. We may have tactical differences on a number of issues – Iraq, we certainly have tactical difference on the issue of Kyoto, but it doesn't mean we cannot work well together.
“It is absolutely normal that in a democratic relationship between allies that there should be differences on some issues.”
Even with the withdrawal of combat troops, Mr Burns was hopeful of Australia and the US continuing to work co-operatively to help the rebuilding process in Iraq.
“There's a lot going on in Iraq, to help the Iraqi's build a stable government to take back control of the streets, to train police, to train the military, governance issues, corruption issues, economic issues … all these issues are in play,” he said.
Australia and the US also discussed ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, which will get a further airing next week when Mr Fitzgibbon is expected to attend a meeting in Edinburgh of countries fighting in southern Afghanistan.
It will be an opportunity for him to meet US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.