The confirmation of a new speaker of the House of Representatives in the US Congress has raised hopes that a landmark deal to sell American nuclear-powered submarines to Australia can finally be approved.
As President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese held a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, Republican congressman Mike Johnson was voted in as speaker, ending a weeks-long stalemate in Congress that threatened to scuttle the submarine sale as part of the AUKUS deal.
Mr. Albanese’s visit is intended to deepen an alliance that’s increasingly viewed as a critical counterweight to China’s influence in the Pacific. It was the ninth and most high-profile meeting between the leaders, reflecting their work towards closer ties on climate change, technology and national security.
The President described the Australia-US alliance as “an anchor to peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.” Under the AUKUS security agreement, Australia, the US and the UK have pledged to work together on advanced defence capabilities. It will see Australia obtain up to five Virginia-class submarines from the US before eventually building its own nuclear-powered boats.
The US Congress still needs to sign off on several legislative proposals to progress the deal, but President Biden is optimistic after the election of Congressman Johnson as House Speaker: “I urge Congress to pass AUKUS legislation this year. We have to get moving. I am confident we are going to be able to get the money for AUKUS because it is overwhelmingly in our interest. This is about maintaining stability in the Taiwan Straits, in the Indian Ocean, the whole area. I think it will increase the prospects for long-term peace.”
President Biden said the US-Australian alliance is characterised by “imagination, ingenuity and innovation”, and they would “race undaunted to a future we know is possible if we work together.” Mr. Albanese said the “soul of our partnership” is “not a pact against a common enemy, but a pledge to a common cause”.
Mr. Biden said Australia was a critical partner, along with 50 other nations, in defending Ukraine’s sovereignty against Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “brutality and aggression” The leaders also discussed the Israel-Hamas conflict with Mr. Albanese saying Australia “unequivocally condemns the terrorism of Hamas. We grieve for the loss of every innocent life, whether that be Israeli or Palestinian.”
There was also a commitment to work together on supporting economic development among Pacific island nations including investment in maritime infrastructure and laying undersea cables to strengthen internet connectivity.
The two leaders want to see US companies launch space missions from Australia while Microsoft has just announced a five billion dollar spend on cybersecurity, cloud computing and artificial intelligence in Australia.
Mr. Albanese concluded: “The relationship has never been more important, or stronger, than it is right now.”
With Australian Associated Press
Photo: Facebook – The White House