SYDNEY: Australia vowed on 23 February to stand firm with the US in Iraq as visiting Vice President Dick Cheney warned the only way to survive terrorism was to go on the offensive “till the enemy is destroyed”.
“America is going through a very difficult time. Whatever reservations you might have, that is a time not to turn your back on them but to stick to them,” Prime Minister John Howard said in a radio interview.
He was speaking as Cheney delivered a toughly-worded foreign policy address at a Sydney hotel and police clashed with anti-war protesters nearby for a second straight day.
But the remarks by Howard, a close ally of US President George W. Bush, placed less emphasis than usual on the merits of the war itself and instead stressed his concerns about maintaining good relations with Washington.
Howard faces an election this year and is under increasing pressure to pull Australia’s 1,400 soldiers out of Iraqi operations, particularly since Britain and Denmark this week announced plans to start withdrawing.
“I just think (withdrawing) is the wrong thing to be doing at the present time in the context of the long-term future of the relationship (with the US),” he said.
Howard’s support was acknowledged by Cheney in his speech to business and political leaders.
“Americans know that for this country, standing by your mate when he’s in a fight are more than words in a song and they signify a way of life.
“Having Australia’s friendship makes my country very grateful and very proud,” he said.
Cheney told the Australian American Leadership Dialogue that the US and Australia “simply cannot indulge” thoughts of an early withdrawal from Iraq as it would spawn a new wave of global terror.
He praised Howard’s staunch support of the US-led war and its fight against terror, saying the only option for survival was to fight back ferociously.
“We’ve never had a fight like this and it’s not a fight we can win using the strategies from other wars,” the vice president said.
“An enemy that operates in the shadows and views the entire world as a battlefield is not one that can be contained or deterred.
“An enemy with fantasies of martyrdom is not going to sit down at a table for peaceful negotiations.
“The only option for our security and survival is to go on the offensive, face the threat directly, patiently and systematically till the enemy is destroyed.”
A block away from the hotel where Cheney was speaking, about 100 anti-war protesters clashed with police, bringing traffic in Australia’s largest city to a standstill.
Four demonstrators were arrested and later charged with a range of offences including assault. A woman who was injured in the scuffles was taken away by ambulance.
The confrontation followed clashes on 22 February night when seven people were arrested and three police officials suffered minor injuries as they attempted to prevent about 200 protesters marching to the US consulate here.
Cheney later met the anti-war leader of the opposition Labour Party, Kevin Rudd, who is leading Howard in the opinion polls ahead of the elections.
Rudd has pledged to pull Australian troops out of Iraq, pressing Howard to follow the lead of Britain and Denmark.
British forces will be reduced by 1,600 to 5,500 in coming months, while Denmark’s 430 ground troops will leave by August.
But Howard on 18 February announced Australia would send up to 70 more military instructors to Iraq and may deploy more troops in Afghanistan.
Cheney, one of the key architects of the Iraq war, flew into Sydney after a visit to Japan as Washington looks to shore up flagging support for the conflict.