SYDNEY, Australia — The United States and Australia, determined to check increasing Soviet activity in the South Pacific, declared Monday that their alliance is strong and effective despite continuing friction over U.S. trade policy and French nuclear tests.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger agreed with their Australian counterparts, Foreign Minister Bill Hayden and Defense Minister Kim Beazley, that they must respond to the Soviet Union's increasing commercial and diplomatic activity among the tiny island nations of the South Pacific.
"We can assume that the Soviet Union will go on taking diplomatic, commercial, intelligence and other initiatives in the region aimed in part at undercutting vital alliance interests in the Pacific," Shultz said after a daylong series of meetings.
"What are they fishing for?" he asked, referring to the activities in the area by Soviet trawlers, which sometimes double as spy ships.
Hayden, who said Moscow was acting through regional "front organizations" as well as through its own fishing fleet and other business ventures, said the island nations lack the intelligence and police resources to contain the threat on their own.
Nevertheless, none of the officials would discuss any specific initiatives the alliance may be considering to counter Soviet influence.
The United States and Australia also warned of increasing interference in the region by Libya. They said in a statement that Libya's "destabilizing activities in other parts of the world are well documented."
Shultz is scheduled to leave Australia today and will stop in Western Samoa on his way home. The five-hour visit to the oldest republic in the South Pacific is intended to dramatize Washington's concern with Soviet and Libyan penetration of the region.
The meeting was billed as the annual conference of the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States) alliance. New Zealand's membership has been suspended for refusing to permit port visits by U.S. nuclear warships, but Washington and Canberra are determined to maintain the relationship.
In the statement, the United States and Australia said their alliance with each other "remained constant and undiminished" despite the loss of New Zealand.
Compared to most other alliances, the U.S.-Australia pact is extremely close. The anti-American rhetoric once heard on the fringes of Australian politics seems to be absent from the campaign for the July 11 Australian election.
Washington is popular enough with the Australian electorate that opposition leader John Howard accused Shultz and Weinberger of supporting Prime Minister Bob Hawke's government simply by the timing of their visit.
Staying Out of Politics
Shultz, who also met privately with opposition leaders, said the ANZUS session was scheduled long before the election was called. He insisted that he has no intention of meddling in Australian politics.
Nevertheless, the meetings highlighted the strains on the alliance caused by U.S. agricultural export subsidies and by Washington's refusal to condemn publicly France's use of Mururoa atoll in the South Pacific for nuclear testing.
Australia was so angry about U.S. agricultural policies that it insisted on inserting into the final statement an implied warning that Australia might reduce its commitment to the alliance if the U.S. trade practices continue. It was a rare departure from the usual practice of drafting statements to paper over any disagreements.
"The Australian side stressed that protectionism and agricultural subsidies in the major world markets distorted the earnings of efficient primary commodity suppliers," the statement said. "To the degree that this imposed economic strains on Australia, it impaired Australia's ability to work effectively in cooperation with its allies and friends."
Hayden also said that French nuclear testing in the South Pacific is causing severe damage to Western interests throughout the region. France carried out its fourth test of the year Monday.
"It is clear that to the island states of the South Pacific, French nuclear testing is a provocative act," he said, "and adds to the difficulties of maintaining comprehensive and cohesive support for Western interests."
However, neither Weinberger nor Shultz would criticize France. Weinberger said nuclear testing is absolutely necessary to maintaining a nuclear deterrent.