SYDNEY (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden met with Australia's prime minister and other leaders on Tuesday, as he reasserted America's push to boost its presence in the Asia-Pacific region and maintain its status as a "Pacific power."
Biden, who is in Australia as part of a tour of the Pacific, also met with troops aboard an Australian navy ship, where he shook hands with veterans of Middle East conflicts and thanked Australia for being a close military ally.
Biden's visit comes five years after President Barack Obama announced that U.S. Marines would begin rotating through the Australian port city of Darwin as part of the U.S. military pivot to Asia.
"Thank you for having America's back and we will always have your back," Biden told the troops gathered on the flight deck of the HMAS Adelaide. "We are a Pacific power, we are here to stay, and thank God we have you to lead us and to be with us."
Biden and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that Australia's military would expand its training mission in Iraq to include the nation's police.
"One of the most important objectives now in Iraq is to ensure that the Iraqi police forces ... are able to maintain the peace in areas that have been liberated from Daesh, or ISIL, as the Iraqi security forces and counterterrorism forces progress," Turnbull said, referring to other names used to describe the Islamic State group.
Both leaders also spoke of the need to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Turnbull saying he had no doubt the "Biden touch" would help get the pact through Congress.
The vice president repeatedly mentioned the importance of the U.S. maintaining its presence in the Pacific, saying he believed the U.S., along with Australia, had provided stability throughout the region that has allowed countries such as China, South Korea and Japan to grow.
"The United States is here in the Pacific to stay," Biden told reporters. "We are a Pacific nation, we are a Pacific power, and we will do our part to maintain peace and stability in our region."
Later, Biden took a sunset cruise along Sydney's famed harbor, chatting with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as their boat glided past the Sydney Opera House. He then visited Taronga Zoo with three of his granddaughters, where they were greeted by the mournful sounds of a didgeridoo and patted a koala.
Biden said bringing his granddaughters on the trip Down Under was not initially part of the plan — until he remembered that one of the teens had long dreamed of visiting Australia.
"She said to me four years ago when she was 14, 'You know, Pop, going to Australia's on my bucket list.' Fourteen years old — bucket list?" Biden said during his meeting with Turnbull. "So I said, 'Honey, I'm going to Australia, want to come?' She said, 'Yes!'"
Biden flies to New Zealand on Wednesday.