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Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard has been criticised for suggesting that Barack Obama, the US presidential candidate, would be popular among terrorist leaders because of his promise to recall troops from Iraq if he wins.
John Howard, an ally of US President George Bush in the war on Iraq, denied that his remarks were diplomatically inappropriate.
But critics in Australia and from both major parties in the US rejected Howard’s comments as interference in another country’s affairs.
Obama himself responded to Howard's comments by challenging him to send another 20,000 Australian troops "if he is ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq". "Otherwise, it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric," he said in Iowa.
On Saturday Obama, a Democratic senator, formally threw his hat into the ring as a contender for the 2008 US presidential vote.
The US has close to 140,000 troops in Iraq while Australia has 1,400.
Speaking to reporters on Monday Howard rejected criticism of his comments saying that Australia was making "a very significant and appropriate contribution" to the Iraq war.
But Howard’s Australian critics warned the 'undiplomatic' remarks could harm ties with the US, accusing the prime minister of putting his personal relationship with Bush before Australia's interests.
Opposition leader Kevin Rudd said the prime minister's comments could damage the Australia's relations with a future US administration which could be run by a Democrat.
Meanwhile politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties in the US have condemned Howard’s comments on Obama as interference in domestic politics.
Ron Wyden, a Democratic senator from Oregon, described Howard's comments as "bizarre". "We'll make out own judgments in this country with respect to elections," he said.
Elsewhere Jon Cornyn, a Republican senator from Texas, said that while Howard may have had a point, it was NOT his position as the leader of a foreign country to comment.
Terry McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Convention, criticised Mr Howard's strong links to US President George W Bush.
"The prime minister has been a great friend of George Bush's, he has been with him lock-step from day one on this war in Iraq," Mr McAuliffe said.
"He and George Bush, they can go off and talk to each other, we don't care what he says."
Democrat senator Ron Wyden said it was hard to be polite about Mr Howard.
The row over Howard's comments comes as a new poll released on Monday showed his support among Australian voters waning ahead of elections expected later this year.
About 65 per cent of more than 1,400 voters in a telephone survey by ACNielsen supported Rudd, the highest popularity rating for an opposition leader in the poll's 35-year history.
Rudd was also the preferred choice for prime minister by 48 per cent of those polled, compared to 43 per cent for Howard.
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Prime Minister John Howard is refusing to back away from his attack on US presidential hopeful Barack Obama, whose Iraq policy he says will create chaos in the Middle East and be a victory for terrorists. "I do not retract the statements that I made yesterday," he told parliament.
Australian OPPOSITION Leader Kevin Rudd today went on the offensive against Prime Minister John Howard over his verbal attack on US presidential hopeful Barack Obama, warning it might damage the Australia-US alliance.
Mr Rudd said Mr Howard should be censured over his comment yesterday that terrorist network al-Qaeda would be hoping for a Democratic candidate to win next year's US presidential election.
Labor's censure motion refers to Mr Howard's “false statement” that his comments were directed only at Senator Obama and criticises Mr Howard for damaging the Australia-US alliance.
It also accuses Mr Howard of “gross insensitivity” for lecturing the United States on Iraq when the war has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 US servicemen and women.
Senator Obama shot back, demanding Mr Howard send 20,000 extra Australian troops to Iraq if the battle in Iraq mattered so much to him.
Monday, February 12, 2007
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