WASHINGTON – Australian Prime Minister John Howard (search) on Tuesday defended his country's continuing troop presence in Iraq and refused to put a timetable on bringing soldiers home from the U.S.-led campaign, echoing the position of his host, President Bush.
"We will stay the distance in Iraq," Howard told reporters in a joint White House news conference with Bush, whom he praised as a friend. "We won't go until the job has been finished."
Bush and Howard said they understand that people in both their countries want to know when troops will leave Iraq, where insurgent violence has steadily escalated since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) announced his Shiite-dominated government in April.
"There's a great temptation to get me or John to put a timetable on our actions there, but that doesn't make any sense," Bush said. "Why would you tell the enemy how long you're going to stay somewhere? Why would you — we're at war and during a war you do the best you can to win the war. And one way to embolden an enemy is to give him an artificial timetable."
Australia has 1,400 troops in and around Iraq. Just last week, Howard said he would send 150 elite troops to Afghanistan (search) by September to help quell insurgent violence there.
Despite the violence in Iraq (search), Howard said the cause of building democracy there is worth fighting for.
"I think we do face a situation where, because of the horror of suicide bombing, there is a constant high level of publicity, understandably, given to that, and to the detriment of the progress that is being made at a political level," he said.
Bush and Howard gave an impassioned defense of their joint belief in the U.S.-led fight against terror and spoke in glowing terms about their admiration for each other. Howard said relations between Australia and the United States that are better than they ever have been and told Bush their personal friendship "means a great deal to me."
Bush referred to Howard four times as his friend and said he admires him as a man of conviction. "He's got backbone," Bush said admiringly.
Howard and Bush spoke to reporters after a closed-door meeting in the Oval Office and before sitting down for a private lunch with their wives in the executive residence. Bush said during their meeting, Howard also gave him advice about relations with other countries in the Pacific region, including Malaysia, China, North Korea and particularly Indonesia.
Howard said Indonesia, the world's largest Islamic country, is "immensely importance to the ideological and intellectual debate in relation to terrorism."
"If Indonesia is a success story, it can be held up as an example to the rest of the Islamic world that the path forward, the path to prosperity and stability is a path away from hatred and extremism and a path of moderation," Howard said.
During his visit to Washington, Howard also met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan; chaired a meeting of the International Democratic Union, which comprises 70 conservative Christian Democratic and other center-right political parties; and finally spoke to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Australian Association.
The speech in the Chamber of Commerce's ornate downtown headquarters four years late: He was to have spoken there on Sept. 11, 2001. But instead he flew home after the terrorist attacks and immediately invoked for the first time the mutual-defense ANZUS treaty, the 1951 pact that governs military relations between the United States and Australia.