Australia's Julia Gillard and Barack Obama affirm ties

Julia Gillard and Barack Obama This is Ms Gillard's first official visit to the US since becoming prime minister

Australia and the US stand "shoulder to shoulder" in condemning the violence in Libya, President Barack Obama has said.

Mr Obama met Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the White House on Monday. The two leaders also discussed climate change, the war in Afghanistan and trade.

The visit marks the 60th anniversary of the Anzus military alliance between the two nations.

It is Ms Gillard's first official visit to the US since taking office.

Analysis

Australia has long had a close, warm relationship with the US, epitomized by the 60-year-old Anzus treaty. America has "no stronger ally", according to President Obama.

But it's the personal chemistry between the countries' leaders that is often the subject of scrutiny.

John Howard got along famously well with President George W Bush. Mr Bush invited the former Aussie PM to spend time at his Texas ranch, and gave him a pair of cowboy boots.

Kevin Rudd and Barack Obama - both cerebral centrists with a deep interest in world affairs - were said to have a strong personal rapport.

Ms Gillard, it seems, is no exception. Barack Obama told reporters he was "immediately charmed" by Australia's first female prime minister. He gave her a "hearty welcome" to the Oval Office, while she smiled proudly for the assembled cameras.

The situation in Libya and anti-government protests across the Middle East were high on the agenda. The two leaders presented a united front against violence in the region.

"We have no stronger ally than Australia," Mr Obama said. "Australia joined with us in imposing swift and firm, comprehensive sanctions against the Libyan government."

Both leaders emphasised the warm friendship between their nations, with Ms Gillard saying they were "great mates".

She also affirmed Australia's ongoing commitment to the war in Afghanistan, while admitting that the mission was "hard".

Other topics raised during the bilateral meeting were security, the economy and trade, particularly in the Pacific region.

Ms Gillard said she hoped that Mr Obama was able to provide leadership on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral free trade agreement focused on the Pacific and Oceania, which both the US and Australia are in negotiations to join.

Mr Obama offered his condolences to victims of Australia's recent floods.

'60 years young'

Mr Obama and Ms Gillard, a former education minister, then visited a Washington area school where they took questions from history students.

During the session, Ms Gillard boasted about the virtues of Vegemite, an iconic Australian food spread which Mr Obama called "horrible".

Earlier Ms Gillard visited the Lincoln Memorial, where she announced a $3.3m (£2.0m) investment in an education centre honouring Vietnam veterans.

Barack Obama and Julia Gillard The two leaders took questions for students at a Washington area high school

On Tuesday, she will join Senator John McCain, a former presidential candidate, to unveil an art exhibition commemorating the US-Australian alliance in the US Capitol building.

In her appearance with Mr Obama, Ms Gillard declared the alliance "60 years young", saying that she envisioned a great future for the continuing partnership.

Ms Gillard will address a joint session of the US Congress on Wednesday.

She will be the first foreign dignitary to address congress since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in November's midterm elections.

While in Washington, Ms Gillard will also have meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

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