Vice President Dan Quayle said Saturday the U.S.-Australia alliance is stronger than ever despite a flap over American grain subsidies.
"I came here with expectations . . . these expectations have been surpassed," Quayle told reporters at his second news conference since arriving in Australia four days ago.The U.S. vice president was flying to the Great Barrier Reef on Saturday to do some snorkeling before heading for Indonesia on Sunday.
Quayle's trip has been marked by criticism from Australian officials over the United States' Export Enhancement Program, which provides subsidies to U.S. grain growers.
The Australians say the subsidy program has cut into their exports to other markets although Quayle maintained during his four-day visit here that it was aimed at countering only Europe's protectionist policies.
Asked if the debate over exports had hurt the alliance, Quayle said, "I don't believe we have angered the Australian government."
Overall, he said, the two countries share a common strategy of opening markets around the world and eliminating trade restrictions.
However, Quayle acknowledged his trip had provided him an education on the issue.
"I am far more sensitive to that issue than before I came," he said at the conference held in the Sydney Opera House.
Quayle said he was "impressed by the directness of the Australian people" and liked their approach in addressing him "by my first name."
"Personally I enjoy candor," he said.
Another issue that has come up during Quayle's visit was the status of the Australian-New Zealand-U.S. military alliance known as ANZUS.
New Zealand's Prime Minister David Lange has indicated his country might formally leave the pact.
But Quayle said that alliance "is stronger than ever," too, despite a virtual freeze in relations between the United States and New Zealand over New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance. The policy prevents U.S. warships armed with nuclear weapons from making port calls.
Quayle said there is still a "vacant chair" for New Zealand in the tripartite pact should it chose to return to full participation and that he hoped that would be as soon as possible.
The Australians have complained that U.S. subsidies on wheat hurt their exports abroad, an argument that Quayle rejected. "We do not believe that it is injuring Australia," he said.
In an editorial Friday, The Australian, a nationally circulated newspaper, said, "Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Quayle? Read our lips, Mr. Quayle. Australians are not happy."
All in all, however, Quayle has been well-received in a country that enjoys smooth relations with the United States. Talking with reporters aboard Air Force Two, Quayle called Australia a very important country, with which the United States has close ties.