By Randy Foreman, White House Correspondent
When Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull visited the White House, he brought with him Australian trade officials and with President Obama were USTR’s Mike Froman and Assistant Secretary Danny Russell, East Asian & Pacific Affairs.
It is Turnbull’s first trip to the White House as Prime Minister, since he replaced Tony Abbott in a leadership spill four months ago. Mr Turnbull is no stranger to Washington, previously serving as a journalist and as a former managing director of Goldman Sachs Australia. He also has a son studying at Harvard College.
Mr. Obama invited Mr. Turnbull to Washington during the APEC meeting.
For around 15 minutes, the two men talked about the strong alliance between the two countries, the TPP and the joint anti-ISIL effort.
The United States has been engaged in a “rebalance” to Asia and the effectiveness of this approach has in part leaned on the US alliance with Australia. Obama said the two nations “work to affirm international order,” and “rules of the road with respect to issues like maritime law,” this quote refers to the recent Island-building effort by China. This has been causing concern in the region due to the competing territorial claims between China and her neighbors in the Western Pacific.
Australia has been punching above its weight with a major contribution to the 60 member anti-ISIL coalition, which is second in size only to the United States. Recently, Australia was asked to provide even more support including ground troops, but Turnbull did not agree to that request. A number of times now he has said that the effort against ISIL must rely more heavily upon those in the region, specifically saying there must be “the right boots” on the ground. Australia is engaged in training missions in Iraq, leveraging their previous relationships with the Iraqi military.
In the oval office, Mr. Turnbull thanked Obama for a “very good discussion” with the “intelligence community” which he noted is very important in the fight against extremism and in particular ISIL.
For his part, Obama thanked Mr. Turnbull and Australia for support in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The two men say they will discuss how they can “strengthen our cooperation in both Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan” and also counter violent extremism around the world.
They also spoke about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) which The World Bank recently said has little economic benefit for Australia or the United States. Obama has asked the U.S. Congress to pass the TPP before the end of his presidency, and although Turnbull has said he thinks it is a good agreement, he also faces an uphill battle to get the agreement passed in the Australian parliament.
Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade References committees of the Australian parliament released a report called, “The Blind Agreement”. The EU Times said “This does not provide an adequate level of oversight and scrutiny … Parliament should play a constructive role during negotiations and not merely rubber-stamp agreements that have been negotiated behind closed doors.”
Showing that the TPP appears to be a purely political exercise, neither Obama nor Turnbull gave any concrete examples of the benefits of the pact. There was only political fluff.
Strangely, Turnbull asked the US Chamber of Commerce to lobby their members of congress to pass the trade pact, saying the TPP “is much more than a trade deal,” … “[the] critical thing is the way it promotes the continued integration of those economies because that is as important an element in our security in the maintenance of the values that both our countries share as all of our efforts.”
Obama said the TPP “is going to be good for our economy. It’s going to be good for our workers and our businesses and it reaffirms that in order for us to thrive in the 21st century, particularly economies that are respectful of rule of law and concerned about labor rights and environmental rights, it’s important for us to be making the rules in this region and that’s exactly what TPP does.”
If the TPP is not particularly good for Australia or the U.S., that may mean it is more of an arm-twisting exercise on the other nations.
Ignoring the many critics of the Iran nuclear deal, Turnbull congratulated Obama on the deal’s completion, calling it “a formidable effort” and a “great example of leadership.”
Jessica Stone, CCTV America’s White House Correspondent provided pool notes for this story.