Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s first in-person meeting with US President Donald Trump in New York was closely watched after a reportedly testy phone call between the two earlier in the year.
The President dismissed as “fake news” reports of February’s phone call, which was described as “hostile” and “contentious” by the reporter who broke the story.
But the two leaders had a lot more to catch up on during their meeting.
Brendan Thomas-Noone, a research fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, broke down the meeting and what it means for the relationship between the US and Australia.
Were both leaders genuinely making attempts to amend any fractures in their relationship?
It certainly looks that way and it would make sense for them to do that.
It’s both in Mr Turnbull’s and Mr Trump’s interest to mend the fences and play down any sort of early troubles they had stemming from that phone call.
Especially as I think they are probably looking definitely to work together in the future.
The meeting was delayed — did things get off to a bad start?
I think that this is sort of stemming from just the very nature of this first meeting.
The fact Mr Turnbull decided to go to this Coral Sea commemoration in the Intrepid, so close not only to Australia’s own budget but to the [Obamacare] repeal bill being passed in the Congress.
So, I think it’s just the nature of the logistics of this … [it] sort of seems to be a bit of a last-minute meeting.
Mr Trump said the refugee deal was “all worked out”. How significant is that from an Australian perspective?
Well it’s certainly significant for the Turnbull Government, who I think was probably quite nervous after the phone call [in February].
I don’t really believe the initial thing, kind of press coming out that this phone call wasn’t a big deal.
I think it did shock the Australian side quite a bit, but obviously three months on and the fact that Vice-President Pence and President Trump now have reaffirmed the deal, definitely will calm some nerves I think in the Government.
Is the US taking the refugee deal seriously?
I think it is … I think the Australians have likely made it clear to the Trump administration that this deal is of upmost importance, to us and to the Government.
And I think that the Americans probably would have received that loud and clear and if not from Mr Turnbull himself, who’s definitely probably been in talks at lower levels, kind of making that clear to the Trump administration.
How does Mr Trump perceive Australia?
In terms of [Mr Trump’s] world view, there’s good allies and allies that he sees as not pulling their weight.
I think that Australia is in the second camp where he sees us as not only having historical significance, obviously with the length of our alliance, but also the fact that we have pulled our weight.
And I also think that there’s not really a secondary issue, like trade, that will get in the way, in Trump’s world view mind.
Places like Canada where they have equally had long-existing alliances and relationships, but trade is a huge factor of that relationship.
So he focuses on those other things.
But I think there is some kind of synergy going on here in terms of North Korea and in the wider region.
I think that Australia’s hosting an ASEAN Australia special summit in March 2018 and Trump is attending an ASEAN summit in November later this year.
And I think that the Turnbull Government will definitely be trying to press, or Mr Turnbull himself be trying to press, Trump on raising the importance of South-East Asia to Australia and I think to a wider Asian strategy.
How does Mr Trump expect Australia to contribute re North Korea?
I think our direct contribution to the security of the Korean Peninsula is minimal, just because our forces are … not located close to them, but I think that he is looking to us now that North Korea’s missiles are gaining in range and gaining in capability.
Obviously the threat is being pushed out and now includes, or will include in the future, Australia.
But I think it’s more about Australia’s role as a gateway to South-East Asian nations.
We know North Korea’s economy is dependent on them selling goods, and under the black market, to a lot of countries in Asia.
And I think that Australia can play a role in trying to pressure some of these countries to start to close up those relationships with North Korea and start to put more and more pressure on North Korea’s economy as time goes forward.
Will Trump expect Australia to change how it responds in fight against Islamic State group?
That’s unclear at the moment I think.
There was some speculation Australia might want to offer something to the Trump administration in this first leader-to-leader meeting.
And there was some talk about perhaps that could be increasing Australia’s troop commitments in the Middle East.
Mr Turnbull, during Anzac Day when he was in Iraq, sort of hinted that we were open to possibly sending more troops.
But I think that it’s a little too early to tell and I also don’t know if there is a need. The campaign is slow but it’s progressing, the strategy seems to be working.
I think it will become more clear once ISIS starts to get pushed back and floods out of the region, whether there needs to be a stability operation or a more longer term commitment.
And I think those will be where the kind of further Australian commitments might come into play.
How long until we see Mr Trump in Australia?
I don’t think long … I did see something on Twitter about [him] being interested in coming down to Australia at some point.
It might be November when President Trump attends the ASEAN Summit, but it won’t be too long I don’t think.