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Julian Assange: Us Rejects Australia’s Calls to End Pursuit of Wikileaks Founder During Ausmin Talks

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has pushed back at the Australian government’s calls to end the pursuit of Julian Assange, insisting that the WikiLeaks founder is alleged to have “risked very serious harm to our national security”.

After high-level talks in Brisbane largely focused on military cooperation, Blinken confirmed that the Australian government had raised the case with the US on multiple occasions, and said he understood “the concerns and views of Australians”.

But he pointedly added that it was “very important that our friends here” in Australia understood the US concerns about Assange’s “alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country”.

The key announcements after the meeting on Saturday included that the US would increase the “tempo” of visits of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.

The US also plans to step up rotations of maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft and introduce new rotations of US army watercraft, while pledging to help Australia to start domestic manufacturing of missiles within two years.

The US assured the Australian government that the attempts to secure congressional support for the Aukus deal remained on track, even as some Republicans push for greater funding for US production.

But Blinken’s defence of the US charges against Assange will be seen as a blow to the campaign to free the Australian citizen.

Assange remains in Belmarsh prison in London as he fights a US attempt to extradite him to face charges in connection with the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as well as diplomatic cables.

The Australian foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, confirmed she had raised the case with the US government.

At a joint press conference alongside Blinken, Wong said: “We have made clear our view that Mr Assange’s case has dragged for too long, and our desire that it be brought to a conclusion, and we’ve said that publicly and you would anticipate that that reflects also the position we articulate in private.”

Wong added, however, that there were limits to what could be achieved in talks between governments “until Mr Assange’s processes have concluded”.

Blinken, speaking second, told reporters that as a general matter of policy the US did not comment on extradition proceedings.

“I really do understand and certainly confirm what Penny said about the fact that this matter was raised with us, as it has been in the past, and I understand the sensitivities, I understand the concerns and views of Australians,” he said.

“I think it is very important that our friends here understand our concerns about this matter.”

Blinken said the US Department of Justice had indicated that Assange was “charged with very serious criminal conduct”.

“The actions that he has alleged to have committed risked very serious harm to our national security, to the benefit of our adversaries, and put named human sources at grave risk – grave risk – of physical harm, and grave risk of detention,” Blinken said.

“So, I say that only because just as we understand sensitivities here, it’s important that our friends understand sensitivities in the United States.”

Assange’s brother, Gabriel Shipton, said it was now up to the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, to “put Australians’ views in front of the president himself” during a forthcoming visit to the US.

“Secretary of state Antony Blinken’s snub to Australians demanding Julian’s freedom cuts deeper knowing the American who allegedly leaked the information has been free since 2017,” Shipton said.

The former US military analyst Chelsea Manning’s sentence was commuted by the Obama administration in 2017.

An adviser to the Australian Assange Campaign, Greg Barns, also responded to Blinken’s comments.

“Australia is the US’s closest ally,” Barns said.

“Mr Blinken needs to understand the overwhelming view of Australians which is that enough is enough. Julian must be released immediately and be able to rejoin his family.”

Australian federal politicians from across the political spectrum wrote to the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, in April to argue that case “set a dangerous precedent” for press freedom and would damage the reputation of the US.

The 48 MPs and senators, including 13 from the governing Labor party, said the charges – which include 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – pertained to Assange’s actions “as a journalist and publisher” in publishing information “with evidence of war crimes, corruption and human rights abuses”.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has argued the prosecution of Assange “imperils journalism everywhere and undermines the United States’ reputation as a safe place for press freedom and free speech”.

Blinken and Wong were joined by the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, and the Australian defence minister, Richard Marles, for annual talks known as Ausmin.

The meeting was overshadowed by an Australian defence force helicopter training accident near Queensland’s Hamilton Island on Friday night that left four crew members missing.

Richard Marles said the Australian and US ministers met ‘with heavy hearts’ after news of the military helicopter accident
Richard Marles said the Australian and US ministers had met ‘with heavy hearts’ after news of the military helicopter accident. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

Marles, the deputy prime minister, said at the outset of Saturday’s talks that they were meeting “with heavy hearts”, with a search for the four members continuing, while Blinken said: “We’re thinking of them, we’re thinking of their family, their friends, comrades.”

As dozens of Republicans in the Senate flex their muscle on Aukus legislation on Capitol Hill – demanding extra funds to boost US domestic production – Marles said he and Wong were “both legislators” and “very much understand the heat and light that comes with the passage of legislation”.

“We are absolutely assured by Tony and Lloyd, but also in fact by the efforts that we’ve undertaken ourselves, in speaking with those on the hill, that there is a bipartisan commitment to Australia acquiring the capability to operate nuclear-powered submarines,” Marles said.

Austin defended the adequacy of the US level of investment into its own submarine production, but did not rule out considering an increase in funds: “We will continue to make sure that all the pieces are in place as we proceed.”

He said the US had committed to “help Australia produce guided multiple-launch rocket systems, or GMLRS, by 2025”.

“We’re racing to accelerate Australia’s access to priority munitions through a streamlined acquisition process,” Austin said.

“We’re also thrilled to announce that we’re taking steps to enable Australia to maintain, repair and overhaul critical US source munitions.”

Source : TheGuardian