rudd saluted us president george w bush

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    Summary | AAP | ABC | Photos
    Friday April 4, 04:59 PM
    Nelson attacks Rudd for saluting Bush
    Prime Minister Kevin Rudd flies to London tonight (AEDT) amid accusations of conduct unbecoming an Australian leader after he saluted US President George W Bush.

    Mr Rudd upset some in Australia with his casual salute to President Bush at a social gathering of NATO leaders following meetings in Bucharest, Romania.


    Mr Rudd was briefly standing alone at the gathering of leaders from 26 countries when he saw Mr Bush, saluted, and strode over, smiling, to talk to the US president.

    "It was just a joke," a laughing Mr Rudd said later.

    "I was just saying hi to the president of the United States - I was just with him the other day.

    "I went over and had a chat, actually."

    But Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson said the salute was inappropriate and Greens leader Bob Brown said it belittled Australia.

    "I think it's conduct unbecoming of an Australian prime minister," Dr Nelson said.

    "Mr Rudd appears to conduct himself in one manner when he thinks the television is on him and in another when it is not.

    "Australia is a confident, outward-looking country after more than 10 years of strong foreign policy development and we need a strong prime minister to represent our very best interests throughout the world."

    The incident prompted some observers to recall the storm caused by Mr Bush in 2003 when he described Australia as a "sheriff" of the Asia-Pacific.

    At the time, then prime minister John Howard laughed off Mr Bush's comment as a joke, attributing it to the president's Texas roots.

    But Senator Brown has not forgotten it.

    "There is a streak of John Howard's deputy sheriff in Kevin Rudd's slip-up," he said.

    "It takes seasoned maturity to ensure Australia is never second-rated in the international arena and Mr Rudd is not there yet.

    "We are not the 51st state of the USA and Mr Rudd's salute carried a subservient connotation many Australians won't like."

    US Ambassador to Australia Robert McCallum says the salute should not be considered controversial.

    "I've been travelling for the last 35 hours and got into Canberra at noon - I haven't seen any salute," Mr McCallum said.

    "But nothing (that's been) said so far (describing the salute) is offensive to me."

    Mr McCallum said Australian and US relations remained strong.

    "With respect to the military side of it, not only did the prime minister meet with the president and the vice-president, but he met again with the Secretary of Defence Bob Gates and with others at the Pentagon on the secretary's staff," he said.

    "There has been and will continue to be a very close relationship, a very coordinated relationship between the United States military and the Australian Defence Force."

    He also gave Mr Rudd's push for a seat on the UN Security Council the thumbs up.

    "I think the United States is always supportive and considers very seriously the interests that Australia has and so I have no doubt that the United States will be supportive of Australia's position."

    The salute has distracted from Mr Rudd's achievements in Bucharest where Australia's demands for NATO troops to carry a bigger burden in Afghanistan were partially satisfied.

    "We have a significant commitment here but it's not a blank cheque, it's a commitment to the long term," Mr Rudd told reporters.

    "It has to be measured against the benchmarks we have set."

    Australia, which has 1,000 troops in the southern province of Oruzgan, has repeatedly called for NATO allies, particularly the Europeans. to take on greater responsibility in the more dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

    In a declaration on Afghanistan, NATO and other coalition partners "agreed to support each other in sharing the burden".

    As well, they committed to the more integrated civilian and military strategy being sought by Australia and other coalition partners.

    But commanders of the NATO-led force have fallen short of their target of getting an additional 10,000 troops into the war zone.

    Mr Rudd's plan for the destruction of Afghan drug crops also failed to win support.

    After less than 24 hours in the Romanian capital, Mr Rudd was tonight beginning a four-day visit to London.

    Mr Rudd will lay a wreath at the Australian War Memorial in Hyde Park (tonight AEDT) before addressing a lunch of British and Australian business leaders.

    Later, he will address the Progressive Government Conference and will head to the conference again tomorrow (AEDT).

    The prime minister may get a rare day off on Sunday before a packed schedule of meetings on Monday, including a visit to the Queen at Windsor Castle and a breakfast with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street.

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