Bishop in US for alliance stocktake

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be aiming for a business-as-usual vibe when she meets key Trump administration officials in Washington DC this week, following some dramatic friendly fire between leaders.


Ms Bishop will meet with Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

She’ll be looking for insights into a new US strategy to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, expected to be handed down in a fortnight.

The federal government has undertaken to consider on merit any White House request to increase Australia’s current commitment to the US-led coalition’s mission in the region.

Australia’s 780 defence personnel there are carrying out air strikes, special operations, and training Iraqi soldiers and police.

There’s also some conjecture around putting troops into Syria and ramping up the mentoring and training program for Afghan soldiers.

“I will reinforce Australia’s commitment to the alliance and to our ongoing co-operation in responding to regional and global challenges, including to the US-led coalition to counter Daesh,” Ms Bishop said in a statement.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong wouldn’t be drawn on whether or not Labor would support increasing Australia’s military commitments.

“There hasn’t been a case made publicly as to why extending Australia’s current commitment to the fight against Daesh would be in Australia’s national interest,” she told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

Ms Bishop’s US visit comes after a widely reportedly heated phone call between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump over a refugee resettlement deal Canberra struck with the outgoing Obama administration.

Mr Trump reluctantly said he will honour the deal despite calling it “dumb”, but refugees being held on Nauru and Manus Island will only be allowed into the US if they pass “extreme vetting”.

Mr Turnbull described Mr Trump is a “very big personality” but insists the US president’s approach to diplomacy via social media will not alter Australia’s approach to engaging with America.

“The Australia-US alliance, relationship, is very deep. It’s built on over a century of fighting side by side in every major conflict. It’s an alliance, it’s an economic partnership, and it’s built on millions of people-to-people links and family links,” he told international business channel Bloomberg on Tuesday.

There is a campaign building in Washington to have Mr Turnbull address a joint sitting of Congress when he holds his first face-to-face talks with Mr Trump later this year.

Ms Bishop will also be seeking to lock down a date for a meeting between Australian and US foreign and defence ministers.