The veteran Australian diplomat Richard Woolcott has labelled a report in last Friday’s edition of The Australian newspaper that the US is not in agreement with Kevin Rudd’s Asia-Pacific plan as “mischievous and incorrect”.
Last Friday under the headline “Barack Obama’s man Kurt Campbell junks Kevin Rudd’s Asia-Pacific plan”, Norington reported:
Kevin Rudd’s proposal for an Australian-led Asia-Pacific community similar to the European Union has been slapped down by the top envoy chosen by Barack Obama to represent US interests in the region.
Kurt Campbell yesterday raised serious difficulties with the Prime Minister’s plan, declaring that Asians hated to be compared with Europe.
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Speaking at US Senate confirmation hearing before his expected swearing-in as assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, Dr Campbell said multilateral diplomacy in Asia was still “very shallow”, and the success of any Asia-Pacific union would require deeper roots.
He made it clear that the US, rather than Australia, would see its role as harnessing and directing any large new institution that involved China and Japan.
But Woolcott, who is currently acting as an envoy in charge of selling Rudd’s Asia-Pacific plan, told Crikey that Norington, had “got it wrong ” and didn’t seem to know the name of Barack Obama’s top aides in charge of representing US interests in the region.
Norington named the aide as Dr Kurt Campbell but Woolcott said the name of the persons are in fact Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg.
Mr. Woolcott said Dr Kurt Campbell will play an important role in policy formulations to Obama’s top aides.
“The newspaper’s selective and totally wrong headline pointing to Norington’s piece did the paper no credit”, Mr Woolcott said.
“To say our closest ally has ‘junked’ the plan is just wrong and has no basis in fact,” he said.
Woolcott, who is Kevin Rudd’s envoy charged with “selling” the plan in the region, spoke to Crikey in Melbourne yesterday. He said he visited Washington in February and March and had 39 separate meetings with US officials and member of Congress.
He told Crikey that he had met with Henry Kissinger, who endorsed the Rudd plan in a op-ed piece in The New York Times.
“I also had a meeting with Admiral Timothy Keating the commander of the Asia-Pacific region.”
Mr Woolcott, a former Australian ambassador to the United Nations and our last representative on the UN Security Council, is known to have unparalleled access to US officials of all administrations.
He told Crikey that the reaction to the Prime Minister’s plan was generally positive.
And the reaction from the US embassy to the story seems to echo Woolcott’s assertions. In a letter to the editor published in The Australian today, Daniel Clune, the Charge d’Affaires ad interim, United States Embassy, has not minced words:
Crikey sought comment from Brad Norington but he did not respond before deadline.