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. Australia, Japan, US plan disaster relief exercises

by Staff Writers
Kyoto, Japan (AFP) June 27, 2008
The foreign ministers of Australia, Japan and the United States pledged Friday to launch joint exercises to better coordinate relief operations after disasters in Asia.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith held talks on the sidelines of a Group of Eight meeting in the Japanese city of Kyoto.

They said the three nations all had experience in disaster relief, particularly after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and could improve the response through cooperation.

The three countries called in a joint statement for greater military cooperation and "exercises to build understanding of respective emergency response procedures and capabilities."

They said disaster officials would hold a first meeting, likely to take place in Australia in November, to look at practical ways to cooperate.

Komura and Smith, meeting bilaterally before the three-way talks, also discussed a row between the two countries over Japan's whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, officials said.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has ramped up pressure since taking office last year against whaling, which Japan says is part of its culture.

Smith and Komura agreed "that the issue of whaling should not impair a solid, good bilateral relationship between Japan and Australia," said Japan's foreign ministry press secretary, Kazuo Kodama.

The three foreign ministers said in their statement that Australia, Japan and the United States were committed to being "close strategic partners to help promote stability and security globally," especially in Asia.

In September, the leaders of the three countries held first-of-a-kind three-way talks in Sydney.

Japan's then prime minister, Shinzo Abe, had championed building a four-way alliance of democracies comprising the three countries and India, in what was widely seen by analysts as a move to balance China's rising influence.

But Abe resigned weeks afterwards and Australia's then premier, John Howard, was defeated at the end of the year by Kevin Rudd, a Sinophile who abolished the four-way dialogue with India.

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