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PM eyes greater ties with NATO

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard cautiously welcomed on Monday the idea of deepening relations with NATO, as the alliance mulls closer ties with the Afghan war ally and other partners.

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“Australia will look at being engaged with NATO in a flexible way in the future,” Gillard told a news conference after talks with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the military alliance’s Brussels headquarters.

Rasmussen said he had shown Gillard a draft of NATO’s new “strategic concept” which leaders of the 28-nation alliance will adopt at a summit in Lisbon on November 19-20.

The NATO chief said a key element of the concept will be “a fresh approach to NATO partnerships with countries around the globe.”

“Australia will have the opportunity to deepen its relations with NATO,” Rasmussen said.

Australia has a military representative at NATO and the Australian military is formally consulted by the alliance on operations in which the country’s troops participate in Afghanistan.

Rasmussen wants to tighten NATO’s relations with key partners such as Australia, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand in the face of global threats such as terrorism and cyber attacks.

Gillard is on her first official foreign trip since taking over from Kevin Rudd in June. On Sunday, she visited Afghanistan where Australia has around 1,550 soldiers — the biggest non-NATO contributor to the war effort.

The Australian premier was in Brussels to participate in the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) gathering leaders from 46 nations on Monday and Tuesday.