Rice arrives for talks

Dr Rice landed in Sydney overnight after jetting in from Indonesia, and was whisked away in a car convoy accompanied by a helicopter security escort.

Her schedule for coming days includes bilateral meetings with Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, as well as the first ministerial-level trilateral security dialogue between Australia, the US and Japan.

The growing influence of China, regional security, the Iraq war and tensions on the Korean peninsula are also on the agenda.

The federal government has tried to soothe Chinese concerns that Saturday’s meeting between the three allies is aimed at containing China’s growing regional power.

Dr Rice reignited Chinese doubts about the security dialogue when she suggested the three allies had a responsibility to play a role in how China’s influence affected the region.

Rice lunch

Dr Rice will meet Mr Downer today with a press conference scheduled for just before 1300 local time.

She will then have lunch with American sailors on board the USS Port Royal, a visiting American navy ship.

Mr Downer yesterday promised the security talks were not about dampening China’s growing influence in the region.

On the weekend Japan will hold its first-ever trilateral strategic dialogue with Australia and the US in Sydney during Ms Rice’s visit and a three day visit by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso.

The three are expected to issue a joint statement confirming their cooperation toward resolving mutual concerns such as the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues.

The statement will renew calls for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and is apparently aimed at supporting the ongoing UN Security Council discussions on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Iraq on agenda

It will be the first trilateral strategic dialogue of this level since the three countries agreed in May last year to upgrade their meeting from the sub-cabinet to ministerial level.

The trio is also expected to affirm its commitment to urge North Korea to return unconditionally to the six party talks.

They are also expected to discuss East Asian and Pacific affairs, including China’s economic and military rise, the future of the East Asian community and anti-terrorism cooperation.

The situation in Iraq, where all three countries have troops, and the timing when Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force troops and
Australian forces will withdraw is also expected to be on the agenda.

Mr Aso’s itinerary will also include a courtesy call on Prime Minister John Howard and bilateral talks with Mr Downer on Saturday afternoon.

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