Vice President Mike Pence sought to reassure Australia today that the US remains committed to the countries’ longtime alliance, as he tried to patch up relations that were left frayed when President Donald Trump got into a spat with Australia’s leader over a refugee resettlement deal.
Pence met with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other Australian leaders in Sydney as part of his 10-day, four-country trip to Asia. His agenda includes reassuring Turnbull about the state of the unusually strained US- Australia alliance and laying out the new administration’s priorities for the Pacific Rim.
“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 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.”
Pence’s visit Down Under is widely viewed as an effort to smooth over relations with Australia in the wake of a highly- publicised argument between Turnbull and Trump.
After taking office, Trump was infuriated upon learning that the previous Obama administration had agreed to a refugee resettlement deal with Australia. Under the agreement, 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 deal led to a tense phone call with Turnbull in January and an angry tweet in which the president dubbed the deal “dumb.”
The fallout has strained the typically cosy alliance between the US and Australia. A majority of Australians view Trump unfavourably, and some critics of the president 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 U.S. is Australia’s most important security partner, while China is its most important trading partner.