Britain hopes to right 'neglect' of Australia

18th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Foreign Secretary William Hague met Tuesday with senior Australian cabinet members for security talks he hopes will put right a lengthy "neglect" of ties with Canberra.

Hague and Defence Secretary Liam Fox met their Australian counterparts, Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith, at a Sydney naval base to discuss their joint mission in Afghanistan.

The visit is the first to Australia by any British cabinet minister since David Cameron was elected prime minister in May 2010 and Hague is the first British foreign secretary to visit since Douglas Hurd in 1993.

"I will be the first (British) foreign secretary for nearly 20 years to go to Australia," Hague said in a recent video blog.

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

In the video, Hague said his top priority during the visit would be to discuss war-torn Afghanistan where Britain has 9,500 troops and Australia 1,550 soldiers.

"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.

Afghanistan has become an increasingly thorny issue for Australia, with Canberra losing 10 troops to the protracted conflict in 2010. A total of 21 Australian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since Canberra joined the war in late 2001.

Britain has lost a total of 349 soldiers in the Afghan conflict, according to the independent website

Ahead of the meeting, Rudd said the talks reflected the "closeness of the Australia-UK relationship and our aligned strategic outlook".

"The talks will set the direction of our bilateral defence relationship, reflecting contemporary, shared security interests," Defence Minister Smith said.

The ministers at the third Australia-British ministerial (AUKMIN) talks are also expected to discuss changing dynamics in Asia, particularly the rise of China, global counter-terrorism, Iran and nuclear proliferation.

Previous AUKMIN talks were held in Britain in 2006 and 2008.

Hague will also visit the northern city of Brisbane, days after the Queensland capital was hit by devastating floods.

© 2011 AFP

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