Australian PM Albanese to meet Biden in US after India trip

Albanese would not be drawn on expectations of a trilateral summit next week with Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to announce a way forward on AUKUS project

Renju JoseDavid BrunnstromReuters
Published : 8 March 2023, 06:29 AM
Updated : 8 March 2023, 06:29 AM

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Wednesday he will visit the United States to meet President Joe Biden after a trip to India this week.

Albanese would not be drawn on expectations of a trilateral summit next week with Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to announce a way forward on AUKUS, a major project to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and other high-tech weapons.

"I look forward to the continuing engagement that I have with the US administration," Albanese told reporters before leaving for India, without giving a date for his US trip.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Tuesday that Albanese would meet with Biden and Sunak in San Diego on Monday to unveil new details of the 2021 AUKUS pact, which was conceived as part of efforts to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australia's ambassador to the United States Arthur Sinodinos said last week that details of the submarine deal would be announced in mid-March, but the three governments have declined to comment on the specific time and place.

San Diego is home to the US Pacific Fleet and a source familiar with the planning told Reuters the trilateral summit could involve a visit to a submarine.

While the United States and Britain have agreed to provide Australia with the technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines, the three allies have yet to say exactly how the capability will be transferred to Australia, which does not have a nuclear-propulsion industry.

AUKUS will be Australia's biggest-ever defence project and offers the prospect of jobs in all three countries, but it remains unclear whether it will involve a US or a British-designed submarine, or a combination of both, or when the vessels will become operational.

Australian defence industry speculation has centred on Australia opting for a British design, while Sinodinos said there would be a "genuine trilateral solution".


Despite an 18-month consultation period since AUKUS was first announced, questions remain over strict US curbs on technology sharing needed for the project.

These are a particular concern for its so-called pillar two dealing with advanced technology programs such as artificial intelligence and hypersonic weapons.

British and Australian officials said last week work was still needed to break down bureaucratic barriers to technology sharing in pillar two and the top Pentagon official for Asia, Ely Ratner, referred to "antiquated systems" governing US technology.

Ratner said these needed to be revised "and we're in the process of doing so."

A State Department spokesperson said Washington was "actively working to reexamine and streamline our processes to optimise our defence trade in the AUKUS context," and added: "We do not anticipate any challenges in implementing AUKUS due to US export-control regulations."

However, despite political will for reform in the Biden administration, experts question how easy it will be for AUKUS to avoid the attention of mid-level State Department bureaucrats duty bound to protect US defence technology.

Ashley Townshend, an Australian Defense expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, said a new information-sharing agreement would be needed for the submarine program's implementation stage.

"I have no doubt that this will happen," he said. "But unless the agreement covers every single technology and defence service that the submarine program will involve, over the course of its lifetime, it won't be immune to bureaucratic and regulatory constraints."

Some experts believe the AUKUS announcement could include plans to station US and British nuclear submarines in Australia to train Australian crews and fill a capability gap until the new Australia submarines are in service, which is not expected until about 2040.

Albanese will reach India later on Wednesday and will stay until Saturday in the first visit by an Australian prime minister since 2017.