Washington, United States, Feb 23 – US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull traded compliments and declarations of enduring “mateship” at the White House Friday, striving to put an ill-tempered first phone call behind them.
From the moment Trump strode out to greet Turnbull on the South Lawn and they shared a side-by-side stroll along the colonnade to the Oval Office, it was clear the pair were ready to put on a show.
Both sang the praises of a more than century old relationship, with Trump picking up his guest’s reference to 100 years of US-Australian “mateship — a term that you used very beautifully, Mr prime minister.”
For his part, Turnbull flattered, saying he was “inspired” by Trump’s tax cuts, and adding for good measure that the US president’s leadership on infrastructure was “admired around the world.”
Trump suggested he wanted to visit Australia soon and said it was “an honor to have Prime Minister Turnbull, Mrs Turnbull — friends of mine and friends of Melania’s for actually quite some time.”
He announced a littoral combat ship would be named the USS Canberra, after the Australian capital, which the US president pronounced with a heavy emphasis on the second syllable.
“The relationship that we have with Australia is a terrific relationship and probably stronger now than ever before, maybe because of our relationship, our friendship,” Trump said.
It was not always so. The pair held an infamously bad-tempered telephone call early on in Trump’s presidency.
Officials say Trump exploded and hung up after he was told about a Barack Obama-era deal to move refugees from Australia to America.
Diplomats — and even a mutual friend, golfer Greg Norman, who was at the White House on Friday — rushed to repair the damage.
– Longtime war allies –
Australia has fought alongside the United States in every modern war, including Vietnam, and is a key part of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network.
The United States remains one of Australia’s largest trading partners and, seen from Canberra, a vital counterbalance to growing Chinese assertiveness in Asia-Pacific.
Turnbull, a former Goldman Sachs banker, thanked Trump and Melania for their “hospitality and friendship.”
“It’s 100 years of mateship we are celebrating, 100 years since the first time American and Australian soldiers went into battle together,” he said.
This year marks the centennial of the Battle of Hamel, on France’s Western Front, when troops from both countries fought under Australian command.
“We have been fighting side-by-side in freedom’s cause ever since,” Turnbull added. “100 more to come.”
The pair have met since the infamous call, most notably in May aboard the Intrepid, moored in New York.
That military and Hollywood-tinged pow-wow was designed to appeal to America’s showbiz-inclined president.
Getting down to business, Trump said that the pair would discuss “trade deals, we are working on military and protection and all of the things that we would be discussing.”
Turnbull’s entourage, however, had one eye on events at home.
During his time in Washington, his deputy prime minister resigned after successive scandals over sexual harassment, his citizenship and a threat to euthanize dogs belonging to Hollywood actor Johnny Depp.