Congressional brawl threatens to overshadow Anthony Albanese’s US trip
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A political brawl in the United States is hurting Australian plans to persuade legislators to support the AUKUS pact on nuclear-powered submarines by casting doubt over whether Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will be able to meet senior Congressional leaders next week.
Albanese is due to fly to Washington DC on Sunday to hold talks with US President Joe Biden on the alliance and broader security issues as well as attending a state dinner at the White House on Wednesday night, the first for an Australian leader in four years.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hopes to meet senior Congressional leaders next week.Credit: Fairfax Media
The agenda for the state visit includes stronger cooperation on climate change, critical mineral supplies as well as the sharing of nuclear secrets for the AUKUS plan, which needs Congress to approve changes to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR, to allow the export of US knowledge and technology.
But the upheaval in the US capital, with the Republicans in disarray over whether Jim Jordan of Ohio should become Speaker of the House of Representatives, means there is no authority to approve an address to Congress and limited time for Albanese to meet top leaders.
The state dinner is also expected to be more sedate than similar events in the past – such as former president Donald Trump’s welcome for former prime minister Scott Morrison in 2019 – because of the focus on the loss of civilian lives in Israel and Gaza.
Albanese is seeking meetings with Congressional leaders and the Australian ambassador to the US, Kevin Rudd, is planning a formal opening of the new embassy on Scott Circle, with guests including political and corporate leaders, and a business delegation from Australia.
While former prime minister John Howard addressed a joint sitting of Congress in 2005 and Julia Gillard did the same in 2011, a similar event appears unlikely for Albanese given the challenges with the Republican leadership.
Jordan has lost a vote to gain his party’s support as House Speaker and said he would pause his candidacy and back Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, only to change his mind hours later and indicate he was still in the race. There is no date set for another vote.
The activities over the four-day visit will start with a focus on critical minerals and climate change to act on an agreement between Albanese and Biden at a meeting in Japan earlier this year to boost the supply of resources such as lithium, a key element of the batteries needed for renewable technology.
Resources Minister Madeleine King will join Albanese on the visit and will meet US counterparts and introduce them to Australian executives.
Albanese hinted in parliament on Thursday that he would make announcements about critical minerals – a key topic for the US when it is worried about Chinese control of scarce supplies for technology products – and emphasised the importance of the US alliance.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton responded with some advice for Albanese about a visit to Israel on the way to US, which is a logistical challenge when the talks in Washington begin on Monday and the flying time would take about 24 hours.
“I think it would also be in our country’s best interest, prime minister, to go by Tel Aviv and provide support to the Israeli leadership,” Dutton said.
Dutton noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had not yet had time to return a call from Albanese.
Albanese said on Friday he had “no plans” to visit Israel.
The events at the White House are scheduled to include a formal welcome for Albanese on the south lawn, similar to the welcome Morrison received during his state visit four years ago.
Albanese is also due to meet Biden in the Oval Office and join the president in a meeting with cabinet secretaries at the White House, as well as meeting Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.
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