US Politics

Pompeo, Mattis say US-Australia alliance 'rock solid'

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An emotional letter from Anthony Maslin, a Perth father who lost three children on MH17, was read to Mike Pompeo as American and Australian ministers met.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis have described the US-Australian alliance as "rock solid" in the face of China's economic and strategic expansion throughout the Indo-Pacific and US President Donald Trump's harsh treatment of other allies.

Pompeo and Mattis wrapped up two days of AUSMIN talks with Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne at California's Stanford University on Tuesday.

"The US and Australia both know we can rely on each other," Pompeo said at the event's concluding press conference.

Mattis added: "The US and Australia will walk the walk in the Indo-Pacific".

A small, but vocal group of protesters accompanied by a large inflatable "Trump Chicken" stood outside Stanford's Hoover Institution where the talks were held.

Trump has used Twitter and public events to attack US allies including the UK and Germany and has sparked a potential trade war with tariffs on friendly nations.

Bishop and Payne said the alliance remains strong.

"We don't always agree with the US and the US doesn't always agree with us, but we are able to work through any differences in a very constructive and positive way and will continue to do that," Bishop said.

The talks confirmed the "full implementation" of force posture initiatives between the US and Australian forces in Australia, including the commitment to raise the number of US Marines in Darwin to the full complement of 2500 "as soon as practicable".

The 2018 Australia-US Ministerial (AUSMIN) Consultations news conference.
The 2018 Australia-US Ministerial (AUSMIN) Consultations news conference.
AAP

The US and Australia also signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate in the research and development of advanced cyber capabilities.

The nations were careful with their words on China's militarisation and island building in the South China Sea and courting of Pacific nations.

"We have spent a lot of time over the course of the last two days talking about how to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific," Pompeo said.

"That emanates from a lot of places - certainly China poses concerns there."

Mattis said it was up to Australia if they embarked on freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.

"That's a sovereign decision by a sovereign state," he said.

Pompeo said he was confident South Pacific nations would choose the US over China, despite the Asian's power's move to make economic and strategic advances with small island nations.

"I think the South Pacific, like most places in the world, understands the enormity of having an American ally - a country that consistently over decades projects the democratic values," he said.

"The human dignity that comes with having an American partner is different from having partners that aren't quite that way.

"I think over time that will ultimately prevail, not only in the South Pacific, but all across the world."

The Secretary of State also said America would continue to hold Russia accountable for the 298 people, including 38 Australians, killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine by a Russian missile four years ago.

A reporter at the press conference read an emotional letter from Anthony Maslin, a Perth father who lost his three children, Otis, Evie and Mo and their grandfather Nick Norris, in the downing of the plane.

"We need the Russians to continue to be held accountable for that," Pompeo responded.

"We take this matter seriously."

Bishop said her AUSMIN talks confirmed "the US is very clear-eyed about Russia's behaviour", despite last week's controversial closed-door meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"At no time did we get any indication the US will not be holding Russia to account for its behaviour for backing the Assad regime in Syria or indeed in relation to MH17 and holding Russia to account for its role," she said.

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