US Vice-President Mike Pence tries hand at koala diplomacy Down Under

US Vice-president Mike Pence says the Trump administration would honour a controversial refugee deal with Australia in a joint press conference with the country's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
US Vice President Mike Pence pats a koala being held by a keeper as his wife Karen and daughters Charlotte and Audrey look on during a visit to Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, on April 23, 2017.
US Vice President Mike Pence pats a koala being held by a keeper as his wife Karen and daughters Charlotte and Audrey look on during a visit to Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, on April 23, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - US Vice-President Mike Pence crouched down in the shade of a eucalyptus tree on Sunday (April 23) at Sydney's Taronga Zoo where Penny, a red kangaroo, dozed in the midday heat, scratching her behind the ears before she lazily rolled onto her back.

"That's my usual position on a Sunday afternoon," Pence said as a bank of cameras clicked, capturing yet another picture-perfect moment for his family in Australia.

Pence, his wife Karen, and their two adult daughters, Charlotte and Audrey, saw some of the sights of Sydney, investing time in soft diplomacy on the last leg of a 10-day Asia tour that has been rich with symbolism about shoring up American economic ties and security cooperation.

Karen Pence - who earlier charmed a meet-and-greet with embassy families with her pronunciation of "G'day" - held out a handful of chicory to Widji, an emu who boldly pecked at the bunch. "OK, OK," she said as Widji's beak came closer to her fingers.

 

The emu declined to indulge Audrey Pence, 22, who wanted to take a selfie - but Penny the kangaroo obliged.

Pence is the first senior member of President Donald Trump's administration to travel to Australia. The visit took on new emphasis after an acrimonious phone call early in Trump's term with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about refugees.

Pence sought to put any sense of lingering tension to rest during his visit, which included meetings with Turnbull and other government officials at Admiralty House, an official residence with spectacular views of the Sydney Opera House.

At the zoo, Pence took photos of his daughters on a bluff in front of a panoramic view of the Sydney Harbour.

They posed with Bai'yali, a fluffy eared koala with beady red eyes - but did not cuddle the bear - and also got a close look at an owl. But the owl seemed more interested in the clicking cameras than the Pences. "He's not really sure about the press," Pence quipped.