Mike Pence on ‘Reassurance Mission’ to Strengthen Alliance Between Australia and U.S.

Vice President Mike Pence arriving in Sydney, Australia, on Friday. His visit is expected to be a low-key affair. (Saeed Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

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.”

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SOURCE: NY Times, Jacqueline Williams