US to honour 'dumb' refugee deal with Australia

US Vice-President Mike Pence (left) told media at a joint news conference held with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney yesterday that the deal would be subject to vetting and honouring it "doesn't mean that we admire the agreement".
US Vice-President Mike Pence (left) told media at a joint news conference held with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney yesterday that the deal would be subject to vetting and honouring it "doesn't mean that we admire the agreement". Mr Pence is on the fourth leg of a 10-day tour of the Asia-Pacific region and Hawaii.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Move made out of respect for ties but asylum seekers will be vetted

SYDNEY • US Vice-President Mike Pence said yesterday the United States would honour a controversial refugee deal with Australia, under which the US would resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers, a deal President Donald Trump had described as "dumb".

Mr Pence also sought to clear the air about the location of supercarrier USS Carl Vinson that was supposedly steaming towards North Korea, saying it would arrive in the Sea of Japan "in a matter of days".

The Vice-President was in Sydney for talks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on a trip aimed at mending fences following a surly phone conversation between Mr Trump and Mr Turnbull in January, which rattled a longstanding alliance between the two powers.

Mr Trump reportedly exploded and cut short the telephone call when he was told about the deal to move asylum seekers from Pacific island camps to America.

Mr Pence told a joint news conference with Mr Turnbull that the deal would be subject to vetting, and that honouring it "doesn't mean that we admire the agreement". "We will honour this agreement out of respect to this enormously important alliance," Mr Pence said at Mr Turnbull's harbourside official residence in Sydney.

Under the deal, agreed with then President Barack Obama late last year, the United States would resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers held in offshore processing camps on South Pacific islands in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. In return, Australia would resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Australia is one of Washington's staunchest allies and has sent troops to fight alongside the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under the deal, agreed with then President Barack Obama late last year, the United States would resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers held in offshore processing camps on South Pacific islands in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

In return, Australia would resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The White House has already said it would apply "extreme vetting" to asylum seekers held in the Australian processing centres.

The deal has taken on added importance for Australia, which is under political and legal pressure to shut the camps, particularly one on Manus Island, where violence between residents and inmates flared on Good Friday.

Asylum-seeker advocates welcomed the US commitment, although they remained concerned that "extreme vetting" could see fewer than 1,250 resettled in the United States.

Mr Pence also praised China's role in the escalating North Korean crisis but renewed calls for Beijing to use its "unique" position to bring Pyongyang to heel.

Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have soared following a series of missile launches amid fears that the North may be readying a sixth nuclear test.

"The steps we're seeing China take, in many ways unprecedented steps, (such as) bringing economic pressure to bear on North Korea, are very welcome," Mr Pence said.

"We do believe China can do more," he said on the fourth leg of a 10-day tour of the Asia-Pacific region and Hawaii, where he has met political and business leaders in South Korea, Japan and Indonesia.

North Korea was a dominant theme of this tour.

Mr Pence said last Wednesday that the United States would counter any North Korean attack with an "overwhelming and effective" response.

His comments came after a senior North Korean official warned that the regime had no intention of scaling down its missile programme, pledging weekly tests and threatening "all-out war" if the US took any action against it.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'US to honour 'dumb' refugee deal with Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe