Pence reinforces US ties with Australia
US Vice President Mike Pence has reassured Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull the America-Australia relationship is solid and will become stronger despite early clashes with Donald Trump.
Mr Pence was full of praise for the long-standing relationship and for Mr Turnbull when the pair held bilateral talks in Sydney on Saturday, at the end of the vice-president’s 10-day visit to the Asia-Pacific region.
After beginning the day with a relaxed morning tea with their families at Mr Turnbull’s official Sydney residence, Kirribilli House, the men got down to business to talk trade, terrorism and the security threat posed by North Korea.
But the most important message Mr Pence had to deliver was one of solid friendship in an attempt to smooth any feathers ruffled by Mr Trump’s notorious phone call in January when he blasted Mr Turnbull over a “dumb” asylum-seeker settlement plan.
“The historic alliance between the United States and Australia is inviolate, it is immutable, and it is a beacon that shines throughout the Asia Pacific and inspires the wider world,” Mr Pence said.
He said the US would honour the agreement to resettle asylum seekers stuck in limbo on Manus Island and Nauru – a deal struck between former US president Barack Obama and Mr Turnbull – mainly because of the strong ties between Australia and America.
“It doesn’t mean we admire the agreement,” Mr Pence told a joint press conference with Mr Turnbull.
“The decision to go forward can rightly be seen as a reflection of the enormous importance of the historic alliance between the United States and Australia.”
While neither Mr Pence nor Mr Turnbull would say how many asylum seekers would be resettled in the US, the vice-president said the process for fulfilling the agreement had been initiated and was subject to the results of vetting processes.
Mr Turnbull thanked him for the commitment and said it “speaks volumes for the commitment and integrity of President Trump and his administration”.
Mr Pence also had a personal message from his boss to reassure the prime minister Australia remained one of America’s “closest allies and truest friends”.
“Prime Minister Turnbull know that under President Donald Trump the historic alliance between the United States and Australia will grow stronger, our people will grow closer, enhancing our security and prosperity for generations to come,” he said.
On security, Mr Pence was full of praise for Mr Turnbull for publicly calling on China to do more to pressure North Korea to dump its nuclear warheads and ballistic missile program, an issue that dominated their talks earlier.
“While all options are on the table, let me assure you the United States will continue to work closely with Australia, our other allies in the region and China to bring economic and diplomatic pressure to bear on the regime,” Mr Pence said, adding that a strike group would be in the Sea of Japan within days.
Mr Turnbull said China has a leverage to influence the reckless and dangerous regime.
“The eyes of the world are on Beijing,” he said.
The prime minister also defended Mr Trump’s free trade credentials despite America’s withdrawal from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, a 12-nation pact strongly backed by Australia and Japan.
“President Trump is an international businessman so he can hardly be described as somebody who is unused to the benefits of international trade and commerce, he understands it very well.”
In between making nice with Mr Turnbull and talking tough on North Korea, Mr Pence found time to mingle on the perfectly manicured laws of Admiralty House for lunch with Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and a select group of leaders from Australia’s military, business and arts sectors.
Mr Pence also held brief talks with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and senior Labor frontbenchers who were keen to find out more about the Trump administration’s thinking on North Korea, Syria, trade and China.
Mr Shorten told Mr Pence that Labor supported the asylum-seeker deal and the enduring relationship between Australia and the US.
In his final official engagement for the day, Mr Pence quizzed some of Australia’s top business minds including Westfield boss Steven Lowy and Macquarie Group chief Nicholas Moore about ways to improve trade between Australia and the US.