21 May, 2024
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US President Joe Biden cancels Australia visit next week


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US President Joe Biden has been forced to cancel his trip to Australia next week as the US grapples with a looming default and the stalemate over its debt ceiling.

Early on Wednesday (AEST), the White House publicly flagged that Mr Biden’s travel plans were being re-evaluated.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese later confirmed he had taken a call from Mr Biden.

“The President apologised that he would now have to postpone this visit because of the unfolding difficulties he is facing in his negotiations with the US Congress over the US government debt ceiling,” Mr Albanese said.

“These negotiations are scheduled to enter their critical and concluding phase during the last week of May.

“Regrettably, this conflicts with the President’s visits to Sydney and Canberra – including the Quad Summit scheduled for 24 May.”

Mr Albanese said the two leaders had agreed to reschedule Mr Biden’s visit to Australia as soon as possible.

Mr Biden’s attention is needed domestically amid wrangling between the White House and Congress Republicans over a deal to raise the US government’s $US31.4 trillion ($46.9 trillion) debt ceiling.

Washington faces the possibility of defaulting for the first time since 1789 if Congress does not lift the debt ceiling.

Without an agreement, the government might not be able to pay its bills in about a fortnight.

Mr Biden had been scheduled to address the Australian parliament when he visited Canberra and Sydney for security talks next week.

Mr Albanese was planning to host Mr Biden alongside Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and Indian President Narendra Modi for the Quad summit.

It would have been the first visit by a US president in almost a decade and the fifth time an American leader addressed MPs and senators.

Earlier White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Mr Biden would still depart for Japan on Wednesday as scheduled, but the subsequent stop in Australia was under review.

“We’re working though, thinking through, the rest of the trip right now,” Mr Kirby said.

He said Mr Biden would already meet Mr Albanese and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G7 in Hiroshima, in a three-day summit starting on Friday.

Afterwards, he had been scheduled to stop briefly in Papua New Guinea before travelling to Australia.

The Quad is not a military alliance and was set up to counter Chinese influence in the region.

Mr Albanese earlier said the visit demonstrated the depth and strength of the alliance.

Mr Albanese said the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue would be the most significant gathering in Australia since the G20 more than a decade ago.

He said the bilateral relationship with India would deliver economic benefits for Australian trade, investment and business. He said no partner in the Indo-Pacific was closer than Japan.

“Our partnership is underpinned by our shared values, including a commitment to democracy, human rights, free trade and a rules-based order,” Mr Albanese said.

The Quad leaders’ meeting had been scheduled at Sydney’s Opera House on May 24. Mr Biden was to address the Parliament in Canberra on May 23.

Australia’s former ambassador to the US Arthur Sinodinos said the Quad talks wouldn’t be the same without Mr Biden.

“Joe Biden did a great thing in elevating the Quad to the leaders’ level.

“It’s really turbocharged the process and there’s lots of good stuff coming out of the process so it would be great to maintain the momentum in Sydney,” he told ABC radio this week.

But he noted the stakes were getting high in the US debt ceiling negotiations.

“Obviously there are major economic implications both for the US and globally,” he added.

The father of Julian Assange has also renewed his campaign to have Mr Albanese bring up his son’s legal woes and have Mr Biden drop charges against the Wikileaks founder.

John Shipton said he was preparing to send a letter requesting a meeting with Mr Biden ahead of his arrival and protests had been planned for the President’s visit to Australia.

“My job is to solely focus on bringing Julian home and speaking to the supporters wherever I can,” he told the ABC’s 7.30 program on Tuesday.

“It’s a good time, of course, to remind the president that it is a concern of the Australian people.”

Mr Albanese will be a guest at the G7 meeting in Japan from May 19-21.

The four leaders will discuss climate change and accelerating the clean energy transition as well as Indo-Pacific security.

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