Australia's Albanese, meeting Biden, stresses protecting lives in Israel-Hamas crisis
Australia's Albanese, meeting Biden, stresses protecting lives in Israel-Hamas crisis
Australia's Albanese, meeting Biden, stresses protecting lives in Israel-Hamas crisis
by DZRH News26 October 2023
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks as Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese listens during an official White House State Arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 25, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to the White House on Wednesday to talk defense and China strategy, but the growing Middle East crisis took center stage.

"You have spoken with moral clarity, and you have stood up for a simple principle - the principle that every innocent life matters, Israeli and Palestinian,” Albanese said on the White House lawn about Biden's approach to the crisis.

"American leadership is indispensable, but it is not inevitable," he added. "It takes a leader to deliver it…it takes true leadership to seek peace, because protecting innocent people is not a show of weakness, it is a measure of strength."


A growing chorus of nations are pushing Israel to take a humanitarian pause in its attacks on Hamas in Gaza that have killed thousands of Palestinians, many of them children. Biden, a self-described "Zionist", has strongly supported Israel following Hamas' Oct. 7 attack while cautioning the country to abide by democratic principles.

Australia is a key ally in the Pacific, and Biden scheduled the visit after canceling a trip to Sydney in May to stay in Washington and negotiate a government funding crisis.

The U.S.-Australia partnership is "an alliance that is marked by imagination, ingenuity and innovation," Biden told the prime minister in opening remarks upon his arrival at the U.S. presidential complex in Washington, citing their partnership on World War One, World War Two and the war on terror.

The visit is expected to result in agreements aimed at deterring and competing with China, even as separately the two countries try to thaw relations with Beijing. The two nations are committed to making sure the "Indopacific remains free, open, prosperous and secure," Biden said.


Albanese, greeted with a red carpet, military bands and a receiving line of Biden's top advisers, praised American democratic values and lauded Biden for maintaining "that every innocent life matters, Israeli and Palestinian, and that in every conflict every effort must be made to protect civilians."

He also pledged continued cooperation in Ukraine's ongoing fight against Russia's invasion last year.

The expected deals include launching an undersea internet cable project and maritime wharf infrastructure investment designed to benefit and woo Pacific Island nations whose assistance may be needed to respond to any future conflict over Taiwan or the South China Sea, according to U.S. officials.

Washington and Canberra, already partners in a decades-old collective defense agreement, will also announce wider security cooperation with Japan.


The balancing act of strengthening deterrence against China without offending Beijing too much is made more complicated by a Middle East crisis that has again diverted Washington's attention away from the Indo-Pacific.

A leadership vacuum in the U.S. House of Representatives has also complicated the approval of a set of laws needed to deliver on Biden's promise to support the AUKUS defense partnership between the United States, Britain and Australia. The AUKUS deal includes transferring sensitive U.S. and British nuclear submarine technology to Australia.

Financing and approvals related to AUKUS still need to come from Congress, where Republican lawmakers, who have a narrow majority, have repeatedly failed to line up enough support behind a party candidate to elect a new speaker of the House.

On Friday, the Biden administration submitted a supplementary budget request to Congress that includes measures to support U.S. commitments under AUKUS.


A senior administration official said Biden would reassure Albanese the U.S. will follow through on its end of the deal as Australians express private frustrations over the delays in moving ahead on the partnership.

"We're in close and deep consultations on Capitol Hill," the official told reporters. "We are confident that the various procedural steps and budget conditions necessary to move forward with pillar one of AUKUS will move through in a way that will support our larger endeavor."


The U.S.-Australian efforts, designed to counter China's territorial claims and reduce trade dependence on the Asian country, come as both countries also work to reduce diplomatic tensions with Beijing.


Albanese will visit China, Australia's largest trade partner and biggest buyer of its iron ore, on Nov. 4.

White House aides are working to lock down a meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Nov. 11 to 17 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco.

Biden and Albanese will also seek to boost cooperation on cybersecurity and Australia's rare earth minerals output to reduce reliance on China, the dominant supplier.

Biden will also announce that a cyberattack on Australia could be taken as an "armed" attack that would trigger U.S. collective defense obligations. In the event of such an attack, the United States would make a case-by-case decision on whether to invoke the treaty, according to another U.S. official.


Australia has been a major hacking target for China.

Biden will also work on the more intangible parts of the U.S.-Australian alliance, hosting Albanese and his partner Jodie Haydon for an official state dinner.

Attendees will eat a three-course banquet prepared by five-time James Beard Foundation Award nominee Katie Button, set against a canvas of American Monarch butterflies and Australian Cairns Birdwing butterflies.

Nodding to the downbeat politics of the moment, a planned performance by the pop group B-52s at the dinner is being scrapped in favor of music from a U.S. military band.


(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Tom Hogue, Heather Timmons and Josie Kao)

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