Australians should not take offence that US President Barack Obama has twice cancelled trips Down Under, the American ambassador says.
Obama was expected to fly into Canberra on Thursday with his family, but he’s postponed the trip to deal with the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The president also cancelled an Australian trip in March.
US ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich stepped into the gap, telling Canberra’s National Press Club that Mr Obama “wants to come out here so badly”.
“It’s just unfortunate timing,” Mr Bleich said.
“We understand that this isn’t a reflection on the commitment to the relationship.”
Mr Bleich said there was no pattern of rain cheques, although US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton abandoned an Australian trip in January because of the Haiti earthquake.
He said dates had already been set, but not made public, for a visit by Mrs Clinton by the end of the year. It is believed the visit is not imminent, and there is speculation she may come in October or November.
And the president would come to Australia “soon”.
“We’re already working on new dates, so definitely it won’t be a long time,” Mr Bleich said.
It’s expected that Mr Obama will come after the federal election, perhaps early in the new year.
Mr Bleich said the events forcing the cancellations had been serious ones, and that Mr Obama had tried to come to Australia early in his term.
When asked about Australia’s involvement in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, Mr Bleich said Australia’s troop numbers were “about right” and there was no pressure to increase them.
He would not be drawn on how the US would respond if Australia decided to withdraw its troops, saying only that the US and Australia recognised their shared interest in defeating terrorists.
On climate change, Mr Bleich made it clear Mr Obama wanted action.
“The president’s commitment is to put a price on carbon,” he said.
An emissions trading scheme (ETS) is one way of putting a price on carbon; Australia is struggling with the task. Federal Labor has delayed the ETS while the Liberals say a price on carbon is not needed.
Mr Bleich said a price on carbon was the most efficient way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and would put incentives in place to encourage clean energy.