US Vice President Mike Pence waves as he leaves the airport following his arrival in Sydney, Australia, on April 21, 2017. (AFP photo)
US Vice President Mike Pence has sought to reassure Australia about the “historic alliance” between Washington and Canberra, following a spat between the two countries’ leaders over a refugee resettlement deal.
Pence met on Saturday with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other Australian leaders in Sydney. He landed in the country on Friday, his fourth stop on a 10-day tour of the Asia-Pacific region.
Pence’s visit is widely viewed as an effort to smooth over relations with Australia in the wake of a highly-publicized argument between US President Donald Trump and Turnbull.
“I bring greetings this morning from the President of the United States,” Pence told Turnbull and other Australian officials ahead of their meeting. “I spoke to him [Trump] first thing and he wanted me to pass along his very best regards to you. And the president wanted me to — early in this administration — to reaffirm the strong and historical alliance between the United States and Australia.”
After taking office, Trump was infuriated upon learning that former President Barack Obama had agreed to a refugee resettlement deal with Australia.
US President Donald Trump on the phone with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on January 28, 2017 (Reuters photo)
A phone call between the US and Australian leaders in January turned contentious after Turnbull pressed Trump to honor the agreement and accept hundreds of refugees from an Australian detention center.
Trump abruptly ended the conversation and posted on Twitter that the agreement was a “dumb deal.”
The tense phone call triggered widespread condemnation in Australia just as some in the country were calling for reconsidering its alliance with Washington and tilting more toward China.
“Pence is coming just three months into the administration, which is particularly noteworthy,” said Dougal Robinson, a research fellow at the United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney. “After the Trump-Turnbull phone call, he’s clearly here to try and reassure Australian political leaders.”
Pence told Turnbull during their bilateral meeting that the US intends to honor the refugee deal. “It doesn’t mean we admire the agreement,” he told reporters afterwards.
Pence also told reporters on Saturday that the US supercarrier Carl Vinson will arrive in the Sea of Japan in days amid high tensions with North Korea.
On April 11, the US Navy said it would take about a week for the strike group to arrive at the intended location.
However, it emerged later on that the armada was thousands of miles away from Korean waters, heading in the opposite direction to partake in joint drills with Australia.
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