Trump and Turnbull, 2 Expressive Leaders, Seek to Rebuild U.S.-Australia Ties

Their earlier telephone encounter was spoiled by Mr. Trump’s hostile reaction to a deal his predecessor, Barack Obama, negotiated with Australia in the final weeks of his second term. In it, the United States agreed to take in up to 1,250 refugees that Australia was holding at offshore detention centers.

Mr. Trump told Mr. Turnbull that the agreement would hurt his new administration politically, officials said at the time. He said on Twitter after the phone conversation that the deal was “dumb” and that he would study it, raising concerns that the United States might back out.

The White House later agreed to honor the agreement, provided the refugees were subject to “extreme vetting.”

Since then, the two leaders have worked to put the phone call behind them. Mr. Trump praised Mr. Turnbull for his low-key description of the conversation (the president dismissed the most colorful accounts of the call as “fake news”). Mr. Turnbull has refused to be drawn into criticizing the leader of a country that is a close ally.

“The saving grace of all this is that the alliance relationship is so deep it is now function-driven rather than leader-driven,” said Kim Beazley, a former Australian ambassador to the United States, speaking in the immediate aftermath of the phone call.

The Intrepid visit will symbolize the bonds of a military alliance that dates from World War I and that has grown to encompass extensive intelligence-sharing, joint military exercises and shoulder-to-shoulder combat campaigns.

Two weeks ago, the United States Navy sent the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and its strike group to the Indian Ocean to conduct a major exercise with warships from the Australian Navy. The United States Navy kept the date even after it had announced that the Carl Vinson was being deployed to the Western Pacific to respond to a growing crisis over North Korea.

Miscommunication over the carrier’s route proved to be embarrassing for the White House, after the discovery of photographs of the Carl Vinson showed that it was thousands of miles south of the Korean Peninsula.

Officials said that the military exercises demonstrated the determination of the United States Navy not to jilt its Australian partners.

That is not to say Mr. Trump’s presidency has not rattled Australia. The president’s statements about putting America’s interests first — and his warnings that allies have to pay a greater share of their own security — have left some in Australia questioning whether the United States will retreat from its position in Asia.

One of the symbolic centerpieces of Mr. Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia was a plan to rotate Marines to Darwin, in northern Australia. The White House sent Vice President Mike Pence to Australia while he was on a recent tour of the Asia-Pacific, to reassure the country of American support. But some in Australia argue that their country should pursue closer relations with China to offset new American demands.

During their meeting in New York, Mr. Trump is expected to brief Mr. Turnbull about his strategy for dealing with the mounting nuclear threat from North Korea. They will also talk about the American-led multinational campaign against the Islamic State.

Mr. Turnbull, a member of the progressive wing of the Liberal Party of Australia, has little positions in common with Mr. Trump. But he has borrowed some of the American president’s populist rhetoric on immigration, an issue that is as fraught in Australia as it is in the United States.

The Australian leader recently announced proposals that would limit the number of permanent residents settling in his country, and that would make it harder for immigrants to become citizens. Fluency in English, a test of “Australian values” and a longer waiting period are part of the proposal, which was widely viewed as an effort to keep Mr. Turnbull’s government from being toppled by rivals on the right.

“We are putting jobs first; we are putting Australians first,” the prime minister said. “We are an immigration nation but the fact remains that Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs.”

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Source: New York Times

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