US Vice-President Mike Pence reaffirms ties with Australia during meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
Pence also confirmed that US supercarrier Carl Vinson will arrive in the Sea of Japan within a few days as tensions mount between the US and North Korea
US Vice-President Mike Pence and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull brushed off any lingering hostility over a contentious refugee deal and joined forces on Saturday to urge China to take a greater role in pressuring North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons programme.
Pence and Turnbull repeatedly praised the decades-long US-Australian alliance following a meeting in Sydney, with the vice-president thanking Turnbull for calling on Beijing to play a more active part in the international effort to de-escalate Pyongyang’s nuclear threat.
The two leaders appeared at pains to present a united front following an unusual period of tension between the long-time allies that was sparked by a spat between Turnbull and President Donald Trump over a refugee resettlement deal struck by the Obama administration.
Pence said on Saturday that the US would honour the agreement even if it didn’t agree with it. Under the deal, the US would take up to 1,250 refugees that Australia houses in detention camps on the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Trump’s anger over the agreement led to a tense phone call with Turnbull in January and an angry tweet in which the president called the deal “dumb”.
“President Trump has made it clear that we’ll honour the agreement – that doesn’t mean we admire the agreement,” Pence said during a joint press conference with Turnbull.
The fallout over the deal has strained the typically cosy alliance between the US and Australia. A majority of Australians view Trump unfavourably, and some critics of him have urged Australia to distance itself from the US in favour of stronger ties with China. Turnbull has resisted pressure to choose between the two countries, both of which are considered vital allies; the US is Australia’s most important security partner, while China is its most important trading partner.
Pence’s visit Down Under, part of his 10-day, four-country trip to the Pacific Rim, is widely viewed as an effort to smooth over relations with Australia. Indeed, the vice-president seemed determined to reassure Australia of its importance to the US, noting as he stood next to Turnbull on the shores of Sydney Harbour: “It’s always heartening to stand beside a friend, and I do so today.”
Both leaders also repeatedly cited the nations’ long history of military cooperation. Australia has fought alongside the US in every major conflict since the first world war, and is one of the largest contributors to the US-led military campaign in Iraq and Syria.
“I trust that my visit here today on my very first trip to the Asia-Pacific as vice-president of the United States and the president’s plans to travel to this region this fall are a strong sign of our enduring commitment to the historic alliance between the people of the United States of America and the people of Australia,” Pence said.
Pence also confirmed that US supercarrier Carl Vinson will arrive in the Sea of Japan within a few days.
Tensions between the US and North Korea have soared recently following a drumbeat of missile tests and fears that Pyongyang may be readying a sixth nuclear test.
“Our expectation is that they will be in the Sea of Japan in position in a matter of days, before the end of this month,” Pence told reporters. “[What] the regime in North Korea should make no mistake about, is that the United States has the resources, the personnel and the presence in this region of the world to see to our interests and to see to the security of those interests and our allies.”
Pence and Turnbull said they were aligned in their opinion that China should use its leverage with North Korea to de-escalate the nuclear threat from Pyongyang. Pence said the US believes that it will be possible to achieve its objective of ending North Korea’s nuclear programme peacefully, largely with the help of China.
Turnbull echoed the sentiments, saying: “The eyes of the world are on Beijing.”
Earlier on Saturday, Pence met with Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, who said the relationship between the countries is as strong as it was since “the first time we saw each other on the battlefield in 1919”.
Cosgrove said the alliance that began during the first world war started an “unbreakable relationship”.
“We’ve been with you every step of the way,” Cosgrove told Pence.
On Sunday, Pence will tour Sydney’s iconic Opera House, take a boat ride along the harbour and visit a local zoo.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse