Pence to confirm refugee deal during Australia visit
US Vice President Mike Pence is not expected to use his Australian visit to raise new objections to the controversial asylum-seeker deal that infuriated President Donald Trump, White House officials have said.
Mr Pence will depart on Saturday (Sunday AEST) for a week-long Asia-Pacific tour, with the first stop South Korea followed by visits to Japan, Indonesia and Australia.
He is scheduled to land in Sydney on April 22.
“I wouldn’t anticipate any new news on that front,” a senior Trump administration official, speaking to reporters on a background conference call ahead of the tour, said in response to a question about the refugee deal.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull brokered the asylum-seeker agreement last year with then-President Barack Obama.
Mr Trump, who successfully campaigned on dramatically cutting back the number of refugees entering the US, was outraged when the Australian deal was raised in a phone call he had with Mr Turnbull on January 28 – just days after his inauguration.
After initially objecting to the deal, Mr Trump reluctantly supported it as long as the refugees – held on Nauru and Manus Island – undergo “extreme vetting”.
“Obviously, it’s entirely appropriate for a new president to ask questions about agreements struck by his predecessors, especially when it could involve the safety and security of the American people,” the official, who asked not to be named, said.
“But the United States is living up to its agreements, and the president is confident that the necessary vetting procedures are in place to protect Americans while, at the same time, accepting refugees through the deal struck by the Obama administration.”
In Sydney Mr Pence will meet with Mr Turnbull, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
Mr Pence will “reaffirm our enduring presence in the region” and “thank Australia for its partnership in addressing global issues”, the official said.
Bilateral trade and investment relations will also be discussed.
The issue on top of Mr Pence’s agenda as he hops from nation to nation is North Korea, with Mr Trump ramping up rhetoric against the rogue regime and ordering war ships to the waters off the Korean Peninsula in recent days.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un responded with threats to launch nuclear strikes on the US and attacks on US military bases in South Korea.
Trump officials said they were keeping a close eye on potential North Korean nuclear tests and missile activity.
“Nothing will be more foolish if the United States thinks it can deal with us the way it treated Iraq and Libya, miserable victims of its aggression, and Syria, which did not respond immediately even after it was attacked,” North Korea’s People’s Army said in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency.
Saturday marks the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung and traditionally is a time when the nation shows off its military advances.
There is speculation Kim could undertake another underground nuclear test as part of the celebration.
The White House official said the US intelligence community is keeping Mr Trump and Mr Pence “well informed on activities in the region, and the Defence Department and other partners have developed” options to respond to the dictator.
“He continues to develop this program,” the official said. “He continues to launch missiles into the Sea of Japan.
“So with that regime it’s not a matter of if, it’s when.
“So we’re well prepared to counter that.”