Australian defence forces could once again be involved in military action in Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has revealed, after his first bilateral meeting with US President Barack Obama.
Mr Abbott said it was clear the security situation in Iraq was ''rapidly deteriorating'' causing profound concerns and that there was now ''the real prospect that al-Qaeda-type groups will be in control of large swaths of the country''.
''I think America is absolutely right to be concerned and I think Australia is right to be concerned as well,'' Mr Abbott told Fairfax Media in an exclusive interview in Washington DC.
Speaking in the Oval Office after their first meeting, Mr Obama would not be drawn on whatever action would be taken in Iraq but conceded military action in the short term was likely.
He said Australians had always fought alongside Americans ''and Aussies know how to fight, and I like having them in a foxhole if we're in trouble, so I can't think of a better partner''.
Among the possibilities are that Australia would be called on to provide Special Forces to buttress any US campaign although even the US is yet to work out its response to the Iraq disaster despite a request for airstrikes to take out militants.
''My team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them. I don't rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter,'' the President said in the Oval Office flanked by Mr Abbott.
''I think it's fair to say that in our consultations with the Iraqis there will be some short-term, immediate things that need to be done militarily, and our national security team is looking at all the options,'' the US President said.
Mr Abbott said Australia was ready to pitch in if asked by the Americans.
''We would as a matter of course, talk to them about that and if there's a request for help, well, we'll take it very seriously indeed but at the moment they haven't decided what their response should be and there's been no request for help,'' he said.
The Iraq development came as Australia and the United States agreed to enhanced defence co-operation arrangements to increase the American footprint in south-east Asia, address cyber-spying by states such as China, and to forestall potential nuclear missile strikes from North Korea.
The deal could facilitate the establishment of a permanent US military base on Australian soil in years to come.
The strengthened agreement emerged from a meeting between Mr Obama and Mr Abbott in the White House on Thursday which also touched on climate change - although both sides agreed to hold the discussion under the less divisive heading of ''energy efficiency''.
President Obama is understood to have told Mr Abbott that while his administration wanted more co-ordinated international action on global warming, including a price on carbon, he fully accepted the Coalition had a mandate from the Australian people, for its limited ''direct action'' policy.