Middle East

Obama touts Australia's contribution to Islamic State fight

US President Barack Obama listens to Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House January 19, 2016 in Washington, DC. AFP / Brendan Smialowski

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama on Tuesday thanked Australia for its "steadfast" alliance and key contributions in the fight against Islamic State group, as he welcomed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to the White House for his first visit to Washington since taking office in September.

Opening a meeting in the Oval Office, Obama said the leaders planned to discuss the anti-Islamic State operation, as well as broader counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The president noted Australia is a key contributor to the coalition, with the second-largest force of ground troops in Iraq behind the United States.

"They have been a consistent and extraordinarily effective member of the coalition," Obama said.

Australia has said it is among 40 countries being pressed by the U.S. to boost their military contributions in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State after the deadly terrorist attack in Paris in November. But Australia told the U.S. that its commitment would remain largely unchanged.

Australia has six jet fighters based in Dubai flying missions against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. It also has soldiers in non-combat roles in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Turnbull said his visit had included productive meetings with Defense Secretary Ash Carter. He said he looked forward to working more closely with U.S. intelligence officials on counterterrorism efforts aimed at curbing the Islamic State's recruitment and communications online.

Turnbull also praised Obama's work on securing the nuclear agreement with Iran.

"That is a formidable effort, a great example of leadership on the part of the United States," he said. "In that very difficult part of the world, which we'll discuss shortly and in much more detail, that is going to be a very important step forward in ensuring stability."

Obama and Turnbull first met on sidelines of an economic summit in Manila in November. Obama said after that meeting that they had discussed the fight against extremism, as well as the need to increase international pressure on the Islamic State group.

 

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