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Tony Abbott defends United States meetings schedule

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Jonathan Swan and Mark Kenny

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Sword Beach for the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Sword Beach for the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings. Photo: Jake Nowakowski

Tony Abbott has defended not holding talks with key economic leaders in Washington and New York this week amid claims he has deliberately snubbed them after initially checking their availability.

Talks with International Monetary Fund boss Christine Lagarde and head of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim, which have been a staple for visiting Australian leaders, remain in doubt after Mr Abbott's office said a busy schedule was making things hard.

The response from Mr Abbott's office follows a report by Laurie Oakes that were was ''consternation'' among Canberra bureaucrats because Mr Abbott had decided against meeting three of the top economic figures in Washington. The report said Mr Abbott's office had cast doubt on meetings that had been fixed in the diaries of US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Ms Lagarde of the IMF and the World Bank's Dr Kim.

It is now understood Mr Abbott will keep his appointment with Mr Lew, while the two other meetings are undecided.

''In the United States, the Prime Minister has a very full program of formal talks with President Obama and other political, policy and business leaders, focusing on how we can strengthen this extraordinarily important bilateral relationship,'' a spokeswoman for Mr Abbott said. ''The Prime Minister is also leading a business delegation to strengthen trade and business ties between our countries.

''[Mr Abbott] is scheduled to meet with Ms Janet Yellen, chair of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve, and the honourable Jack Lew, secretary of the United States Treasury.''

Mr Abbott's Washington program is not yet final - some meetings may still be included if scheduling permits - and it is understood none have been cancelled.

There has been speculation President Barack Obama will put pressure on Mr Abbott when they meet next week, given Mr Obama's recent push for strong climate action. Mr Abbott has been criticised for wanting to keep climate change off the G20 agenda when Australia hosts the summit in Brisbane in November. He thinks the G20 is more usefully spent focusing on economic issues, while climate change can be left to other forums.

A former top adviser to the Obama administration on climate change, Heather Zichal, said Australia could jeopardise its relationship with the US if the Abbott government failed to fall into line on climate policy.

Mr Abbott visited Villers-Bretonneux on the Western Front on Saturday as part of his bid to elevate the World War I battleground - resting place of 46,000 Australians - to the same cultural status as Anzac Cove. Later, Mr Abbott was scheduled to meet French President Francois Hollande before leaving for Canada. He arrives in New York on Monday.

With Peter Hannam

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