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Visiting US Secretary of State discusses military operations in Iraq; and security talks between Australia, US and Japan.

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Friday 17 March 2006

Visiting US Secretary of State discusses military operations in Iraq; and security talks between Australia, US and Japan


MARK COLVIN: To the US Secret ary of State, Condoleezza Rice. She has praised the role of Iraqi forces in the latest massive military offensive against insurgents in Samarra. 


The US military says it's the biggest air assault in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, but what's called Operation Swarmer also involves more than 1,500 Iraqi and Coalition soldiers. 


But it's the country next door, Iran, that is now clearly in Washington's sights over its nuclear ambitions. 


The White House has released a new policy document, which says the US may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran. 


Iran's disputed nuclear activities were the subject of discussion between Dr Rice, Prime Minister John Howard and Cabinet's National Security Committee in Sydney today. 


Rebecca Barrett reports. 


REBECCA BARRETT: The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has defended the size of the military operation against insurgents north of Baghdad, singling out Iraqi security forces for special praise. 


CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I would call attention to the role that Iraqi security forces have played in this offensive, which it seems to me, demonstrates that Iraqi forces are indeed taking on more of a security fight. 


REBECCA BARRETT: It's neighbouring Iran not Iraq that's now posing the biggest security threat of any country, according to the White House. 


Washington is spearheading the international campaign against Iran over its nuclear power efforts, which Tehran claims are for peaceful purposes. 


The US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad says he's ready to hold talks with Iran. 


The US Secretary of State says while that might be useful, any talks would be limited to questions about Iraq. 


CONDOLEEZZA RICE: This isn't a negotiation of some kind. We've found it useful to exchange information and to talk, and if we do, it will be about Iraq. 


The Iranians have but one thing to do on their nuclear program, and that is to see to the just demands of the international community that Iran pursue its civil nuclear power program in a way that is consistent with its NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty) obligations that is consistent with the world's concerns about Iran's history of lying to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). 


REBECCA BARRETT: The issue is now before the UN Security Council. 


Apart from Iran and Iraq, India and its nuclear deal with the US was another topic of discussion during today's talks between Dr Rice and Prime Minister John Howard. 


Australia has steadfastly refused to sell uranium to India because it isn't a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. 


But Mr Howard has now hinted at a shift in Australia's policy. 


JOHN HOWARD: We would send in the next little while a team of officials to India to get some more information regarding that agreement and that group would go on to the United States. There isn't going to be any immediate change in Government policy. Obviously, like all policies, you never say never. 


REBECCA BARRETT: After a quick visit to Melbourne to go the Commonwealth Games, the US Secretary of State returns to Sydney tonight for trilateral security talks between Australia, the US and Japan tomorrow. 


Dr Rice has played down suggestions that containing China's growing power will be the main topic of discussion. 


CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The United States, Japan and Australia have a large agenda together. It is an agenda that is about not just China but also about South East Asia. It is an agenda that joins us together in APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation), and it is an agenda that is global. 


We are together in Iraq, we've worked together on Afghanistan, we are working together on non-proliferation issues, and so there's plenty to talk about. 


REBECCA BARRETT: A joint statement following the talks is expected tomorrow afternoon. Dr Rice is scheduled to fly home soon after. 


MARK COLVIN: Rebecca Barrett.