US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has landed in Sydney ahead of talks with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other key officials.
Mr Pompeo and newly appointed US Defense Secretary Mark Esper were greeted by US Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse and US Consul General in Sydney Sharon Hudson-Dean at Sydney Airport on Saturday evening.
The men are in town for the annual Australia-United States ministerial meeting on Sunday, where they will meet with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.
Renewed tensions in the Middle East as Iran flexes its military muscle and the growing dominance of China in the Pacific region are expected to be hot topics during the discussions.
Before the meeting, the prime minister will host his two US guests at a dinner at Kirribilli House on Saturday night.
Mr Morrison has a close relationship with US President Donald Trump, and is due to attend a state dinner at the White House next month.
Ahead of Sunday’s important discussions, Cabinet minister Mathias Cormann insisted “no decision” has been made as to whether Australia will join a US-led coalition aimed at protecting shipping in the Persian Gulf from Iranian military forces.
Senator Payne says Australia always considers requests from its allies on their merits, and most importantly, whether they are in the interests of Australia in preserving national security.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese – who will meet Mr Pompeo and Mr Esper on Sunday and Monday respectively following the ministerial talks – has called for a peaceful approach to Iran.
The Middle East is just one area of concern.
Dr Esper has accused China and Russia of seeking to displace the US and “shift the balance of power in their favour”.
He believes a strong network of like-minded nations that are willing and able to fight together is an advantage over their adversaries.
The AUSMIN meeting comes as the US scrapped a nuclear arms pact with Russia on Friday.
Both countries have blamed each other for violating the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty that has stood since 1988.
Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General, expressed regret at the ending of a treaty.
“The Secretary-General emphasises the need to avoid destabilising developments and to urgently seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control,” Mr Dujarric said in a statement on Saturday.
Australian Greens senator Jordan Steele-John said its becoming Increasingly clear that the US and Russia are intent on leading the world into a “new nuclear arms race”.
Closer to home, North Korea confirmed it had made further tests of a new multiple rocket launcher system that could have the capability to strike South Korea and US military bases there.
At the same time, there is an escalating trade war between the US and China, while the Asian giant is also in a row with its autonomous territory Hong Kong, where fears are growing of military action being taken to quell protests.
Mr Pompeo will address a Centre for Independent Studies forum with Senator Payne on Sunday afternoon.
He will head to Micronesia on Monday.