U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday told reporters that talks with Australia in Canberra had touched on closer coordination between Washington and its three main Asia-Pacific alliance partners.
On Tuesday, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer - aware of regional sensitivities - said the idea was to informally bring together officials, not necessarily ministers, but not if any of Australia's neighbours complained.
"It won't be worth doing it at the end of the day if it was going to cause enormous regional consternations," Downer told reporters. "It is an idea that is designed just to bring a little bit more dialogue into the relationship."
Downer later said Australian foreign ministry officials had contacted their Chinese counterparts in Canberra to allay any possible concerns.
"My department had a chat with the Chinese embassy about it today. They didn't express any concern," Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp television.
Downer raised the proposal in talks with Japan's Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka last week.
Powell and Donald Rumsfeld, the administration's top national security guns, also aired differences with senior Australian officials Monday over a key non-proliferation treaty while hailing 50 years of U.S.-Australian military cooperation.
One of those few differences between Australia and the U.S. concerns biological weapons, reports CBS News Correspondent Charles Wolfson, which the Australians support but the Bush administration does not.
However, as a partnership, the 50-year-old U.S.-Australia military alliance, ANZUS, is as solid as ever, reports Wolfson. Downer needed little prodding to say "without the United States, this region would be a lot more unstable place than it currently is."
With almost no differences between the U.S. and Australia, much of Monday's press conference which also included Australian defense minister Peter Reith found reporters trying to figure out whether Powell and Rumsfeld were in agreement on major foreign policy issues.
"Do you agree with every facet of U.S. foreign policy?" Rumsfeld was asked. Tongue firmly planted in cheek, the defense secretary nodded, then added, "Except for those few cases where Colin is still learning." Laughter shook the room.
Rumsfeld flew half way around the world to attend Monday's meetings and headed back to Washington afterward. For Powell, the visit wrapped up a five-country tour of the Asia-Pacific region.
Commenting on the biological weapons threat, Rumsfeld said, "It is something that is of deep concern to the United States and across the globe."
Rumsfeld told Australian reporters on Sunday that Syria, Iraq and Iran are developing biological weapons in defiance of international treaties. He addd that a "nontrivial number of other countries" are doing the same thing.
In Geneva last week, the Bush administration announced that it could not support a draft proposal aimed at enforcing the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.
Defending Australia's support for the proposal, Downer acknowledged that the treaty was not 100 percent enforceable but said having the enforcement mechanism was better than not having it.
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