SYDNEY, Australia -- If, as seems quite possible, Kevin Rudd becomes Australia's new prime minister after national elections on Saturday, the world can expect to see key changes in Australian policies on international issues such as Iraq, climate change and uranium sales to India.
Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat who speaks Chinese, would seek broader ties with China.
Rudd, leader of the opposition Australian Labor Party, shares with conservative incumbent Prime Minister John Howard a strong belief in the value of close ties with the United States.
Howard, in office since March 1996 as leader of the Liberal-National coalition government, is known as one of the staunchest allies of U.S. President George W. Bush in the war on terror.
But unlike Howard, Rudd is not prepared to stay the course in Iraq, where Australia has had military forces since the U.S.-led invasion of early 2003.
Rudd says he will immediately begin talks with the Bush administration and the Iraqi government about withdrawing Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008.
He will leave in place other elements of the 1,600-member Australian military presence in the region, including a navy ship in the Persian Gulf, a security detachment protecting diplomats in Baghdad, and transport and surveillance aircraft that operate from Middle East bases.
A Labor government would also leave Australian troops in Afghanistan.
Although Labor opposed the invasion of Iraq because it was not authorized by the United Nations, it supports the international military effort in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The Australian contingent of 1,000 troops in Afghanistan includes 300 special forces. Rudd's other early priority is to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions -- something Howard has refused to do. Australia and the U.S. are the only industrialized nations outside the Kyoto agreement, which sets targets for reducing emissions.
Howard, who made climate change a centerpiece of the APEC summit he hosted in Sydney in September, instead says Australia is prepared to sign a new international agreement that covers the world's major emitters such as the United States and China.
Rudd's stance is that once Australia ratifies Kyoto, it will have voting rights on any post-Kyoto agreement that might emerge from the next round of climate change talks, due to be held in Bali, Indonesia, next month.
He says the best way forward is to use Australia's influence to get the United States to ratify Kyoto, thereby putting pressure on China to be part of an agreement too.
Rudd also differs with Howard on Australia's nuclear power policy.
Under Howard, Australia -- one of the world's major uranium suppliers -- has agreed to sell uranium to both China and India. But a Rudd administration would block sales to India because it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Rudd, a Mandarin-language speaker who once served as a diplomat in Beijing, would seek a broader engagement with China that goes beyond the booming energy and resources trade at the heart of current Australia-China relations.
His avowed goal is to "transform Australia into the most China-literate and Asia-literate economy in the Western community of nations." At the same time, Rudd says he would stress to Beijing Australia's "enduring alliance relationship" with the United States" and would engage China on issues such as human rights and the environment. E-mail to a friend