Trump lauds Australia's 'man of titanium'

Both PM Scott Morrison (L) and President Donald Trump have reaffirmed the strong US-Australia ties.
Both PM Scott Morrison (L) and President Donald Trump have reaffirmed the strong US-Australia ties.

Australia has a new metallic leader, with US President dubbing Scott Morrison a "man of titanium" on a visit where both sides were eager to emphasise the importance of the other's friendship.

The prime minister's day at the White House was full of pomp and circumstance, starting with a military parade on the south lawn of the historic presidential residence and ending with a state dinner under the stars in its rose garden.

"Today we vow to carry on the righteous legacy of our exceptional alliance," Mr Trump told the gathered crowd of about 4500 people at the welcoming ceremony.

That alliance stretched back over more than a century of joint military operations, both leaders noted.

"From the woods of Le Hamel to the jungles of Southeast Asia to the dust of Tarin Kot in Uruzgan, and now the waters of the Strait of Hormuz, Australians and Americans have always stood together," Mr Morrison said.

Mr Morrison repeated many times throughout the day that Australia was a partner that pulled its weight - a message also drilled home through long diplomatic efforts.

"We have the most perfect of relationships with the United States," he told reporters.

Mr Trump bought in, praising Australia's military and, in particular, the government's purchase of new equipment from American companies.

Later, in the Oval Office, he gave the prime minister his ultimate compliment.

In a reference to George W. Bush's "man of steel" label for John Howard, the last Australian leader to be honoured with a full state visit to the United States, Mr Trump picked a harder metal.

"You know, titanium's much tougher than steel," he said.

"He's a man of titanium, believe me, I have to deal with this guy.

"You might think he's a nice guy, OK, he's a man of real, real strength and a great guy."

Their talks, which also involved top officials, touched on the Trump administration's trade tensions with China, which are rippling through the global economy and a factor in sluggish economic growth in Australia.

Mr Trump was confident of reaching a deal but indicated that might not be before he faces re-election in November 2020.

He described the matter as "a little spat".

"The (economic) numbers of Australia are doing incredibly well, they're doing unbelievably well," he said

"If we do end up doing a deal, Australia will do even better."

Mr Morrison again expressed confidence the economic giants could work things out.

Labor's finance spokeswoman Katy Gallagher hoped that with "a fair bit of time to spend together", the prime minister could talk the president down from the tariff cliff.

"It is in our interests as a trading nation, as someone that has significant strategic partnerships with China and our long history of friendship with America that whatever can be done to de-escalate trade tensions," she told reporters in Canberra.

The joint operations in the waters south of Iran were anticipated as a major topic of conversation for the leaders and their officials.

Australia has so far agreed to a limited contribution to the US-led freedom of navigation operation in the Strait of Hormuz.

Ahead of the talks, Mr Morrison said he thought the US had taken a "very measured and calibrated approach" towards the Middle Eastern nation.

Mr Trump then repeatedly suggested he could make the call to go to war against Iran right then and there with Mr Morrison and the media pack in the room.

"The easiest thing I can do, in fact I can do it while you're here, is say, 'go ahead fellas, go to them'. And that would be a very bad day for Iran," he said, after announcing stronger economic sanctions on Iran.

But at the press conference afterwards, the president said the talks had ultimately touched less on Iran and more on trade, China, and the conflict in Afghanistan.

The two leaders also reached agreements to increase cooperation on space exploration and the export of Australian rare earths used in high-tech products like electric cars and smartphones.

Australian Associated Press