Pence’s backhander on ‘dumb deal’ with Australia
HE flew out of Australia this morning, but US Vice President Mike Pence left no one in any doubt about how the Trump administration feels about the infamous “dumb deal” our country struck with his over refugees.
Mr Pence was in Australia over the weekend, with his visit seen as an attempt to smooth out any ruffled feathers following a now-notorious conversation the US President had with Malcolm Turnbull in January over an agreement to palm off 1,250 refugees from Australian detention camps on the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea for resettlement in America.
President Trump blasted Mr Turnbull over the plan during a heated phone call, and later tweeted he would examine the “dumb” deal struck by the Obama administration.
After holding bilateral talks at Admiralty House on Saturday, the Mr Pence and Mr Turnbull appeared before a joint press conference.
Mr Pence confirmed the deal would go ahead, saying: “The US intends to honour the agreement — subject to the US vetting process”.
But he made it clear the US remained sceptical about its benefits, adding: “It doesn’t mean we admire the agreement”.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton acknowledged tension over the deal, telling the ABC’s Insiders program the following day: “It was a deal that they inherited from the Obama administration, and they weren’t happy about the detail of the deal, but given the nature of the relationship, they honour the deal and we’re very grateful for it”.
Mr 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 as he stood next to Turnbull on the shores of Sydney Harbour.
Mr Pence was full of praise for Mr Turnbull, saying Mr Trump wanted to offer his best wishes and congratulations on his leadership.
“Australia is and always will be one of America’s closed allies and truest friends,” he said.
Mr Pence said the alliance between Australia and the US would only grow stronger under the leadership of President Trump.
A majority of Australians view Mr Trump unfavourably, and some critics have urged Australia to distance itself from the US in favour of stronger ties with China.
Mr 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.
Mr Pence and Mr Turnbull repeatedly cited the nations’ long history of military co-operation.
Australia has fought alongside the US in every major conflict since World War I, and is one of the largest contributors to the US-led military campaign in Iraq and Syria.
Mr Turnbull said Mr Pence’s visit marked the earliest trip by a vice president to Australia in a new administration.
“We have the strongest and the closest ties between our two nations at every level and the vice president’s visit is an opportunity for both our nations emphatically to reaffirm those ties and the deep commitment to the alliance,” Mr Turnbull said.
UNITED ON NORTH KOREA
But it was North Korea more than anything that seemed to unite the two long time allies.
Mr Pence and Mr 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 program peacefully, largely with the help of China.
Turnbull echoed the sentiments, saying: “The eyes of the world are on Beijing.”
Last week, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop indicated Australia would consider further sanctions against the hermit state.
It was in response to that threat that North Korea later on Saturday night issued a statement through its official news agency, threatening to attack Australia with nuclear missiles for “blindly and zealously toeing the US line” on the rogue state.
Some experts believe North Korea could develop a long-range missile capable of reaching Australia within two years.
Ms Bishop struck back on Sunday, saying the threat from North Korea could not be left unchecked.
“The North Korean government should invest in the welfare of its long-suffering citizens, rather than weapons of mass destruction.”
Mr Pence on Sunday remained silent on the war of words between Australia and North Korea but he made it clear on Saturday that the US appreciated Australia’s backing on North Korea.
The comments come as US supercarrier Carl Vinson is due to arrive in the Sea of Japan in days, after days of mixed messages from Washington over the warship’s whereabouts.
The strike group was supposedly steaming towards North Korea last week amid soaring tensions over the rogue state’s apparent ramping up for a sixth nuclear test, with Pyongyang threatening to hit back at any provocation.
But the US Navy admitted Tuesday the ships were in fact sent away from Singapore and towards Australia to conduct drills with the Australian navy.
The aircraft carrier will arrive “in a matter of days”, Mr Pence said on Saturday after the location of the naval strike group became contentious.
“The authorities of the Trump administration are spouting a load of rubbish,” a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement released early Saturday by Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency.
America is “seeking to bring nuclear aircraft carrier strike groups one after another to the waters off the Korean Peninsula. Such intimidation and blackmail can never frighten the DPRK”, he said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic Republic of Korea.
US officials have repeatedly warned that “all options are on the table” including military strikes to curb the North’s nuclear ambitions.
SYDNEY TURNS IT ON FOR PENCE
After his press conference with the Prime Minister, Mr Pence held talks with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten before meeting with Australian business chiefs to discuss ways trade between the two nations could be improved.
Mr Pence held talks with a select group of 10 businessmen and women, including Westfield boss Steven Lowy and the head of Macquarie Group Nicholas Moore.
Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos, Trade Minister Steven Ciobo and Australia’s Ambassador to the US Joe Hockey were also at the brainstorming session at Sydney’s Intercontinental Hotel.
On Sunday, his final day in Sydney, Mr Pence joined his family for tours of Taronga Zoo, Sydney Harbour, NSW Government House and the Opera House.
Accompanied by a large flotilla of boats carrying armed police and Secret Service agents, America’s second family were shown around the harbour by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Accompanied by his wife Karen and their daughters Charlotte and Audrey, Mr Pence was given a quick half-hour private tour of the Opera House by chief executive Louise Herron.
Mr Pence waved from the top of the Opera House’s famous steps to a small crowd that had gathered at metal fences lining the bottom stairs.
Inside as police armed with machine guns patrolled the Opera House’s corridors, Mr Pence peaked inside the Concert Hall before wandering to a balcony at the rear of the building to take in a final glimpse of the harbour as the sun set behind the city’s world famous bridge.
Mr Pence flew out of Australia for Hawaii early Monday morning.