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Turnbull jets off pre-budget to meet Trump

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be in New York meeting Donald Trump as the finishing touches are put on the May budget.

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After the pair’s heated and hostile January phone call made headlines around the world, the US president and Turnbull will come face-to-face for the first time next week.

The meeting will take place on May 4 on USS Intrepid, a decommissioned World War II aircraft carrier, as it hosts commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

In a statement after the White House confirmed the event, Turnbull said he was “delighted” to be meeting Trump.

“My meeting with President Trump will provide an opportunity to reaffirm our alliance and the United States’ engagement with the Asia-Pacific,” he said today.

The meeting comes as the Asia-Pacific region faces a serious threat from a “reckless and dangerous” North Korea.

The New York trip follows Turnbull’s pre-Anzac Day visit to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he met US Defence Secretary James Mattis.

Before his trip to the Middle East, Turnbull hosted US Vice-President Mike Pence and his family in Sydney.

Pence and other officials have tried to smooth relations between Trump and Turnbull following their January phone call, which the president called “the worst call by far” of his conversations with leaders that day.

The tension was over an Australia-US refugee deal originally struck with Barack Obama and later reluctantly agreed to by Mr Trump on the proviso there was “extreme vetting”.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the president was looking forward to meeting the prime minister and showcasing the enduring bonds, deep friendship and close alliance the US had with Australia.

Former US ambassador to Australia John Berry said it was very important Turnbull was meeting Trump so early in the president’s term.

Using the Coral Sea anniversary was also a wonderful way to show how the alliance between the two nations was forged in blood during World War II.

Former Australian ambassador to Washington Kim Beazley said the meeting had added significance given the crisis on the Korean Peninsula and he expected Turnbull would also want to put trade on the agenda.

Beazley said the pair’s phone conversation had a silver lining for Australia.

“There was a massive outpouring of love in the American capital for Australia and a re-appreciation of the significance of the Australian-American alliance to them,” he told Sky News.

The timing of Turnbull’s latest trip is tricky given it takes him away from final budget deliberations before its delivery in Canberra on May 9.

Assistant minister Karen Andrews is not concerned about the timing, insisting budget preparations have been under way for many months.

“The prime minister’s visit to the United States is quite a separate issue and will cause no concerns,” she said.

Labor’s Ed Husic said it was good the meeting was finally happening and Australia’s voice was being heard.

“Obviously Australians being Australians, we value our friendships but we also value the right to be able to speak our mind from time to time,” he said.

– AAP

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