Pence Pledges to Honor ‘Dumb Deal’ With Australia on Refugees

  • U.S. to abide by pact, ‘doesn’t mean we admire it,’ says Pence
  • Australian PM pledges support to U.S. on Syria, Islamic State

Vice President Mike Pence offered assurance to Australia over its ties to the U.S. and pledged to honor a refugee resettlement deal that’s been sharply criticized by the Trump administration.

“We’ve initiated the process of fulfilling that agreement,” Pence said Saturday in Sydney at a press conference following a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The U.S. “has made it clear we’ll honor the agreement, it doesn’t mean we admire the agreement,” he said.

Mike Pence speaks at a joint press conference with Malcolm Turnbull on April 22.

Photographer: Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images

Pence’s visit to Australia follows strains in the historically tight-knit alliance between the nations. President Donald Trump publicly excoriated an agreement struck under the Obama administration to resettle in the U.S. some asylum seekers held by Australia in offshore camps. Trump labeled the pact as “dumb,” and tensions surfaced in a now-notorious phone call between Turnbull and Trump during the president’s first weekend in office.

Refugees are being held by Australia on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and on the South Pacific island of Nauru, under policies to deter asylum seekers from attempting to reach the country by boat, often on sub-standard fishing vessels via people smugglers in Indonesia. The policy has been condemned by human rights groups.

The White House has reluctantly accepted the terms of the deal in the months since Trump’s call with Turnbull, though the administration has insisted the refugees arriving from Australian undergo “extreme vetting.”

To read a QuickTake Q&A on the refugee resettlement issue, click here

Pence, who was scheduled to also meet with Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten and business executives, reassured Turnbull that Australia will remain “one of America’s closest allies and truest friends,” under Trump.

“Our friendship has been forged in the fire of sacrifice,” Pence said. “Around the world, we’re deepening our defense and security collaboration.” Australia is the only country to have fought alongside the U.S. in every major conflict since World War I.

The U.S. is also grateful for Australia’s demands for China to play an increasingly active and constructive role, Pence said.

Turnbull has echoed the Trump administration’s assertion that China needs to do more to impose economic and political pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. Pence visited the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea earlier this week, and stressed the White House’s desire to “marshal the support of our allies in the region” to confront the provocations.

“We also stand with you and with President Trump in condemning the behavior, the criminal, abhorrent use of chemical weapons in Syria by Assad’s regime,” Turnbull said. The U.S. and Australia are also partners, “fighting together with the common goal of utterly destroying” Islamic State, he said.

— With assistance by Jackie Edwards

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