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Donald Trump describes Scott Morrison as 'a man of titanium' as red carpet is rolled out for PM

Updated

US President Donald Trump has described visiting Prime Minister Scott Morrison as "a man of titanium".

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."

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 crowd of about 4500 people at the welcoming ceremony.

Mr Morrison also laid a wreath at the 9/11 Pentagon memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and visited the headquarters of the American space agency, where he announced the federal government would spend $150 million to help Australian businesses and researchers latch on to NASA's plans to head back to the moon by 2024.

Mr Morrison said of the space exploration funding, "We've partnered with the US in almost all of their missions to space for the last 60 years and this investment paves the way for the next 60.

'We're backing Australian businesses to the moon, and even Mars, and back."

The Australian Space Agency has signed a joint statement of intent on expanding cooperation with NASA.

It continues a partnership on space missions that has covered six decades.

"There is enormous opportunity for Australia's space sector which is why we want to triple its size to $12 billion to create around 20,000 extra jobs by 2030," Mr Morrison said.

"The growing amount of space sector work and innovation will also inspire the next generation to see the future of a career in these fields for the long term."

Australia played an integral role in the first moon landing 50 years ago, with the tracking station at Honeysuckle Creek helping to beam the images of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking their first lunar steps around the world.

Now, the government envisages Australians using their experiences to develop things like Earth-to-moon communications systems, robots for use in space based on automation at mines, remote medicine drawing on our delivery of health services to places like Antarctica and the Pilbara, and very small satellites that deliver very high-resolution images.

At the welcoming ceremony, both leaders noted the US-Australia alliance stretched back over more than a century of joint military operations.

"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.

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