Mike Pence, on Charm Offensive in Australia, Seeks to Reassure Ally
SYDNEY, Australia — Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Sydney on Friday for what experts called a “reassurance mission” to strengthen the seven-decade alliance between Australia and the United States.
Mr. Pence is wrapping up an Asia-Pacific tour in which he has sought to affirm America’s commitment to the region after President Trump sent mixed signals to close allies, including Australia.
A tense phone call in late January between Mr. Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull set off a storm of criticism in Australia just as some in the country were calling for reconsidering its alliance with the United States and tilting more toward China.
Mr. Pence’s visit is believed to be the earliest ever by an American vice president to Australia in a new administration. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. did not come until 2016, as his tenure was nearing its end, although former President Barack Obama had paid a call sooner, in his third year in office.
“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.”
That call turned contentious after Mr. Turnbull pressed Mr. Trump to honor an agreement to accept hundreds of refugees from an Australian detention center. Mr. Trump abruptly ended the conversation and posted on Twitter that the agreement was a “dumb deal.”
During an interview on Australian television on Thursday, Mr. Turnbull said he trusted “the judgment, the wisdom of the American government, the president” and “the vice president.”
“Our alliance with the United States is vital,” Mr. Turnbull said. “The commitment is so deep on both sides, it will survive many prime ministers and many presidents.”
Mr. Pence’s visit is expected to be a low-key affair, except for an event in Sydney on Saturday in which he will speak with senior business leaders about the economic relationship between Australia and the United States.
“It’s about showing U.S. economic commitment to the region and to Australia after the collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership” trade deal, Mr. Robinson said.
Mr. Pence will meet with Mr. Turnbull, as well as Julie Bishop, the foreign minister, and Bill Shorten, the leader of the opposition Labor Party.
Mr. Turnbull said the visit by Mr. Pence showed the Trump administration’s dedication to the region.
“We will be talking about a range of issues, but obviously the top of the agenda will be regional security,” he said. “North Korea is going to be right at the top of the agenda.”
Mr. Pence is also expected to address the fight against terrorism and the two nations’ “commitment to destroy the Islamic State.” Trade issues and security will also be discussed, Mr. Turnbull said.
James Carouso, the acting United States ambassador to Australia, said the visit was an effort to reassure Australians of the closeness between the countries and the value that America put on the relationship.
“This is something the new administration intends to work on going forward,” Mr. Carouso said.