• Hannah Phillips

Prime Ministerial Visit to the United States

The Prime Minister will visit Washington this week for discussions with President Trump.

He will also visit New York where the large contingent of business people accompanying him will have the opportunity for discussions on increasing two way trade and investment.

He will also be accompanied by the premiers of Queensland, N.S.W., Victoria and Western Australia who will meet with US governors at their convention.

Malcolm Turnbull is visiting Donald Trump at a time when both leaders are severely wounded.

The Prime Minister has been damaged, probably irreparably, by the Barnaby Joyce affair while President Trump has suffered from the indictment of 13 Russians for interfering in the 2016 presidential election to ensure his election.

Trump has consistently denied that such interference occurred despite the fact that senior intelligence operatives, such as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, have continually maintained that the evidence was irrefutable.

It now appears that the US intelligence organisations had penetrated the Russian organisation from 2014 and were aware of everything that they did including the contacts with “unwitting Americans,” even some members of the Trump campaign.

Prime facie, it appears that there will be evidence against members of the Trump campaign including the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr, and his son in law Jared Kushner.

In the circumstances both the Prime Minister and the President could do with pulling a rabbit out of the hat however the prospects are all on the downside.

It’s possible that the leaders could make an announcement about the interference in domestic affairs by hostile foreign powers which would serve the President well because, so far, he’s refused to talk about protecting the United States against foreign hostility.

It’s clear that Russian intelligence is engaged in covert warfare against the United States and if, Donald Trump is to be consistent with his ‘America First’ mantra and his call for a stronger US defence posture, a strong statement from the two leaders could go some way to addressing this.

On Friday James Clapper said that he had briefed Donald Trump on these matters in January 2017 and that he was amazed that the President had neglected to take any action against Russia.

He said that the White House had no strategy for dealing with Russia. Forces in the White House may push to turn this position around, using the Turnbull visit as cover.

President Trump is also suffering from a dose of the ‘Barnaby Joyces’: another woman has come forward claiming to have had an extramarital affair with him.

The existence of this affair, which occurred in 2006, is said to have been unknown to Melania Trump and her relationship with the President is believed to be frosty.

This background doesn’t augur well for the Turnbull visit.

There’s a risk he could be drawn into a pushback against Russia which is also seen as an attack on China.

This could complicate Australia’s relations with Beijing which are not yet back on an even keel.

The fact that it is alleged that Donald Trump has paid off the woman with whom he had an affair will undoubtedly segue into comments on Mr Turnbull’s recent edict against ministerial fraternising.

He will be asked to comment on the President’s behaviour and whether he would countenance it. This is fraught with danger.

So what is Malcolm Turnbull hoping to achieve from his visit to the White House?

He will probably get confirmation that America will take more refugees from Manus Island and Nauru.

There may be a comment on a commitment to the Asia Pacific region and it will be an opportunity to turn the limelight on new US ambassador Harry Harris.

However the biggest upside is likely to come from discussions on the economy and the contacts developed by the large business group that is accompanying the Prime Ministerial visit.

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