America and Australia remain steadfast in their fight against terrorism and won’t be scared off by those trying to cause harm, the US defense secretary says.
James Mattis insists the US does not take its alliance with Australia for granted and wants it to strengthen, particularly when it comes to global security.
“We are united in our resolve even against an enemy that thinks by hurting us they can scare us. We don’t scare,” he told a high-level meeting of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Australia’s foreign and defence ministers in Sydney on Monday.
“We are here to work together in a manner that protects the freedoms and the values we share together and we’re committed to passing those freedoms on to the next generation intact.”
Countering violent extremism, stemming the flow of foreign fighters and shutting down propaganda arms online were shared goals for both the US and Australia, Mr Tillerson said.
The talks follow the latest deadly terrorist attack in London in which three armed men mowed down pedestrians on London Bridge before stabbing revellers in nearby Borough Market.
Mr Mattis thanked Australia for its commitment to defeating Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, saying its partnership was a foundation for stability and peace in the region and more broadly.
“We stand together. We do not allow ourselves to be intimidated at all,” he said.
“We are going to ensure that, between our forces, our diplomats’ voices are alway backed up by skilful, ethical and fierce force of arms.”
Mr Mattis noted the issue of foreign fighters and the risk they pose in bringing back their skills and message of hatred to attack innocent people.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the federal government had made it clear any Australian who supports terrorist organisations is breaking the law.
“Should they survive and seek to return to Australia, they will be monitored, they will be tracked and they will be subjected to the Australian laws,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mr Tillerson said he would wait until the review of America’s position in Afghanistan was completed before forming a view as to whether the US should send more troops or request additional resources from Australia.
Just last week, Australia agreed to increase by 30 its personnel numbers following a request by NATO.
Defence Minister Marise Payne said Australia will continue engage with the US and NATO about their plans and consider any future decisions at the time.
The increasing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear missile program and growing regional tensions about China’s militarisation of artificial islands in the South China Sea were also on the agenda at Monday’s meeting.
The nations jointly called for North Korea to abandon its program, while Mr Tillerson accused China of buying its way out of problems.
The AusMin talks are usually held annually but it’s been nearly two years since the last gathering because elections in the US and Australia in 2016 made it difficult to schedule the high-level talks.