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All eyes on Julie Bishop’s visit to Washington for signs of normalisation between US and Australia

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be scrutinised by global political analysts and commentators while she is in Washington. Photo: Louise KennerleyForeign Minister Julie Bishop has dashed to Washington for a series of high-level meetings as the US seeks to soothe relations with allies bruised in the early days of the Trump administration.
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Usually, the presence of an Australian foreign minister in Washington is barely noted beyond the canape tray of diplomatic circles – but this trip will be closely scrutinised, following so soon after the controversy about the now infamous “worst call” between President Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull.

Analysts are carefully watching – perhaps hoping – for signs the US is reverting to a more conventional foreign policy after the early volley of presidential firecrackers.

Australia has won a new notoriety in US politics over recent weeks, shared between popular late-night talk shows as well as foreign policy boffins, as a harbinger for how Mr Trump has performed.

Those judgments will inevitably feed into a contrast with the atmospherics that surround a state visit to Australia by China’s premier Li Keqiang, expected next month.

Ms Bishop will meet in Washington with Vice-President Mike Pence, who spent the weekend seeking to assure European leaders of America’s commitment to security for the continent.

She will also hold talks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has carefully sought to dial back early threats to more aggressively confront China in the South China Sea.

But Australia’s agreement with the US to resettle refugees – which Mr Trump publicly blasted as a “dumb deal” – is likely to be played down as officials seek to quietly make progress.

Instead, the focus will be on a push for extra Australian forces in Syria and Iraq as Mr Trump’s self-imposed 30-day deadline for a comprehensive plan to defeat Islamic State expires next Monday.

That offensive began last week when US Defence Secretary Jim  Mattis held a 50-minute meeting with his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, on the sidelines of a NATO summit.

Questions will undoubtedly be raised over whether Australia is acting in response to Mr Trump’s outrage over the refugee deal.

Ms Bishop was in the US in late January before the flare-up over the telephone call, and in the days the Turnbull government was still clutching to hope Mr Trump would not scupper regional trade talks, known as the Trans Pacific Partnership.

But that trip was not to Washington, and Ms Bishop made a point, when announcing this visit, to emphasise “Australia is an open, liberal trading nation” while also spruiking the benefits of the Australia-US free trade deal.

She will also want to settle dates for the next joint meeting of Australian and US defence and foreign ministers, known as AUSMIN, usually an annual gathering but never secured in the last months of the Obama administration.

And having just at the weekend walked the demilitarised zone with North Korea, Ms Bishop will need to be especially conscious of landmines in Trump’s America now, too.

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