Australia's Labor opposition has accused the US ambassador of unprecedented interference in Australian affairs after the diplomat criticized its stance on looming war with Iraq.
Labor leader Simon Crean told US Ambassador Tom Schieffer to butt out of Australian politics, and demanded a second meeting with Schieffer in a week to discuss the issue.
"He does not have the right, nor does any ambassador, to interfere into the domestic politics of this country or to cast his views as being against what the Labor Party is standing for and pro what the government is standing for," Crean told ABC radio.
"That's unprecedented and unacceptable but it's also poor form."
The row flared again after Schieffer personally attacked Crean in an interview with The Bulletin magazine, accusing him of engaging in a "rank appeal to anti-Americanism" in the lead-up to any war in Iraq.
Schieffer said Crean did not share the same personal relationships with the White House that his foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd and former Labor leader Kim Beazley both enjoy.
The attack served to highlight the gulf in attitudes between the Howard government and the Labor opposition, which opposes any war in Iraq unless it is UN-sanctioned.
It coincided with talks in Washington between Prime Minister John Howard and US President George W. Bush, in which Bush lavished praise on his "close friend" and described Australia as a member of the "coalition of the willing."
The opposition was able to seize on the comment as evidence that Howard has committed Australia to joining a US-led attack on Iraq, despite his repeated denials.
However, Schieffer said Wednesday he was keen to meet Crean as soon as possible and was hopeful Washington could continue good relations with the Australian Labor Party.
He said they had had a long phone conversation in which Crean had reiterated that as long as he was the leader Labor could be counted on as a supporter of the US-Australian alliance.
The row was fueled last week by attacks on Bush in parliament last week by Labor frontbencher Mark Latham who said the president was flaky and the most dangerous and incompetent US leader in living memory.