Australian leader off to US for talks with Trump, governors

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2018, file photo, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull arrives at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence for a meeting in Tokyo. Turnbull flies to the United States on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 accompanied by the largest Australian political and business delegation ever to visit the United States. (Franck Robichon/Pool Photo via AP, File)

CANBERRA, Australia — Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull heads to the United States on Wednesday, accompanied by the largest Australian political and business delegation ever to visit the U.S.

President Donald Trump's softening opposition to joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be up for discussion when he meets Turnbull at the White House on Friday. The trade deal among 11 countries includes Australia, which also has a bilateral free trade partnership with the United States.

Turnbull, a wealthy 63-year-old former Goldman Sachs partner, sees himself as having a lot in common with Trump, as they are both successful businessmen who entered politics relatively late in life.

Security risks in the Asia-Pacific region created by a more assertive China and North Korea's nuclear ambitions will also be on the agenda.

Turnbull will be seeking a clear picture from Trump on how he expects the North Korean crisis to unfold, said Kim Beazley, a former Australian defense minister who was ambassador to Washington until 2016.

"Generally speaking, when an Australian prime minister meets an American president, the globe is traversed, all sorts of things, the commitments we have in common, where we're going to go in Iraq and all the rest of it," Beazley told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"The difficulty facing Mr. Turnbull is nobody can be absolutely sure how the current president engages on any of those fronts," Beazley added.

While in Washington, Turnbull will address the U.S. National Governors' Association.

Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said the most significant Australian political and business delegation to ever visit the United States signified the strength of the bilateral relationship.

The United States is Australia's most important security partner, while China is Australia's biggest trading partner. Australia attempts to avoid taking sides in U.S. and Chinese rivalry.

A recent Australian foreign policy statement and the U.S. National Defense Strategy both view China and Russia as potential threats to global security.

Trump and Turnbull both dismiss speculation that their relationship had been damaged by their first, terse telephone conversation as national leaders last year in which the president reluctantly agreed to honor an Obama administration deal to resettle up to 1,250 refugees that Australia had rejected.

Turnbull has since met Trump in New York, but the Washington meeting will be their first in the context of an official state visit.

Two-way trade between the United States and Australia was $52 billion and growing last year, with the United States enjoying a trade surplus, according to Australian government figures.

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