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US, Australia expand defence cooperation -

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BRENDAN TREMBATH: The events in Iraq almost overshadowed the Prime Minister Tony Abbott's trip to the White House but he and US president Barack Obama still agreed to expand defence cooperation.

Mr Abbott refused to rule out sending troops to Iraq if the situation deteriorates further.

From Washington, James Glenday reports.

JAMES GLENDAY: It was a much anticipated meeting: the centrepiece of Tony Abbott's 11-day international visit.

BARACK OBAMA: It's wonderful to have an opportunity to visit with Prime Minister Abbott. We had a chance to meet when I had the great honour of addressing the Australian Parliament.

JAMES GLENDAY: He was warmly welcomed to the Oval Office, perhaps not with quite the same pomp and ceremony as PMs past, but certainly in a style befitting a close ally.

BARACK OBAMA: And Aussies know how to fight and I like having them in a foxhole if we're in trouble so I can't think of a better partner.

JAMES GLENDAY: Defence ties will now be deepened. The pair concluded negotiations on a force posture agreement. A deal which not only sorts out what jurisdiction marines rotating through the Northern Territory will work under but also paves the way more soldiers, ships and planes to work from Australian military bases in the future.

TONY ABBOTT: I think this is not only good for Australia but it's good for our region to have a strong, enthusiastic United States' commitment to our part of the world.

JAMES GLENDAY: One source told PM, Tony Abbott's meeting served as welcome interlude for the president in between briefings on the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

The PM won't rule out sending troops if asked.

(to Tony Abbott) Should the US feel the need to contribute troops would Australia stand ready?

TONY ABBOTT: Well I think it's very early days to be talking about that, but this is a very serious situation, no one should take it lightly. The last thing anyone should want is to see a large swathe of Iraq or indeed any country under the control of al-Qaeda type operatives. That's the last thing anyone should want.

JAMES GLENDAY: Climate change policy loomed large as a controversial issue ahead of the talks. But it wasn't even discussed publicly in front of the cameras.

JAY CARNEY: The leaders discussed a number of issues, as you know, and climate change was one of them of course.

JAMES GLENDAY: White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed what the ABC had already been told. There's now mutual agreement to discuss energy efficiency further on the world stage as part of the G20.

JAY CARNEY: President Obama emphasised the need for ambitious domestic climate policies as the basis of a strong international response. The United States will continue working with Australia to advance climate change, clean energy and energy efficiency solutions, including in the context of the G20. So this was certainly a topic of discussion.

JAMES GLENDAY: Advisers from the White House and Prime Minister's office stress the meeting went well. They also say the guest list was impressive and a sign of the importance of the US - Australia relationship.

Vice president Joe Biden, the secretary of state John Kerry, and Treasury secretary Jack Lew were all present.

The Prime Minister says he wants to build on the relationship with the president after making some comments about Barack Obama he now regrets.

TONY ABBOTT: So look, this was a good meeting, as I think it was always going to be a good meeting. Sure I was guilty of a bit of loose commentary a couple of years ago. I shouldn't have and I don't intend to do it again.

JAMES GLENDAY: Tomorrow, he'll have more meetings at the Pentagon and pay his respects at the Arlington military cemetery, before flying to Houston for the last major speech of his international tour.

This is James Glenday in Washington reporting for PM.