January 17, 2013 10:52 am

Hague hails closer ties with Australia

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Britain and Australia are set for closer ties with the signing of a formal defence and security treaty and an agreement to share diplomatic premises around the world.

The treaty, which will be revealed at annual ministerial talks in Perth on Friday, will see the two countries co-operate more closely on a wide range of issues, including intelligence sharing, cyber security and the development of new military equipment.

The move to strengthen ties comes as Britain seeks to boost its profile in the fast-growth Asia Pacific region and reassess its relationship with the European Union.

Owing to its geographic location, vast mineral reserves and cultural ties, Australia’s is seen by the UK government as a natural partner to help expand Britain’s influence in Asia.

In addition to the new defence and security treaty, the two countries are also working on a longer-term deal over the sharing of diplomatic premises around the world. The UK has also agreed to host Australian diplomats in 12 of its embassies across Africa during its two-year membership of the UN Security Council.

Speaking ahead of the talks, William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, said there was an opportunity for Britain and Australia to play a leading role in the region.

“While our interests will not always be identical, the UK and Australia can work together to support stability in the region, to support education, fight corruption, promote trade, co-operate on energy and make greater use of the Commonwealth network in Asia,” he told an audience at the Menzies Research Centre John Howard Lecture in Sydney on Thursday,

In his third visit to Australia as foreign secretary, Mr Hague said Britain was “looking east like never before in modern times”, pointing to plans to open eight new diplomatic posts across Asia by 2015.

“We are now one of only three European countries to be represented in every single country in Asean [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations].”

His comments come as British Prime Minister David Cameron prepares to clarify the UK’s future relationship with the European Union.

Mr Hague said he would not pre-empt Mr Cameron’s speech, due to be given in the Netherlands on Friday, but he stressed the importance of getting the “right relationship” with Europe and one the British people would be “happy with”.

“Britain has set out to make sure the European Union is outward looking in its approach to the world and doesn’t take actions that stifle economic improvement,” he said.

Outlining his vision for close engagement, Mr Hague said the UK would look to Australia to help tackle some of the major issues facing the international community in 2013.

“We could see a perfect storm of crisis converging if the conflict in Syria continues, the Middle East peace process remains stalled and if Iran will not enter into meaningful negotiations over its nuclear programme,” he said.

Like Australia, Britain believed a peaceful political transition was the best way forward for Syria but if the violence and killing continued the international community must be ready to “step up” its response, said Mr Hague. He said this could involve looking at ways to send life-saving help and assistance to the Syrian opposition.

“2013 cannot be the year in which another 60,000 Syrian civilians perish,” he said.

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