Donald Trump won’t be visiting Australia any time soon, with Washington’s new man in Canberra dampening expectations the US president is planning a trip down under.
“The president’s got a busy schedule,” US Ambassador Arthur Culvahouse said in Canberra on Wednesday in his first Australian press conference.
“I was talking to the White House before I left, that is still an option that’s being considered. I do expect a number of very senior administration officials with whom I met to visit Australia this year.
“I would expect that there will be further meetings between the president and the prime minister of Australia, whomever he or she may be. But the president’s schedule is still being negotiated, still being formulated.”
While the president might be staying put, it seems as if the ambassador is settling in nicely.
“Riding in Her Majesty’s Rolls-Royce was something for a farm boy from Tennessee,” Mr Culvahouse told reporters after visiting Government House to present his credentials.
“I could never have imagined such an honour.”
The ambassador first visited Canberra in September after being approached for the position.
He laid a wreath at the Australian War Memorial before looking out at Parliament House over Lake Burley Griffin.
“I then and there decided that serving as the 26th United States ambassador to Australia would be the capstone of my career,” Mr Culvahouse said.
“I never regretted that decision.”
Mr Culvahouse has arrived in Australia just two months out from the federal election due in May.
Security agencies have warned foreign powers could attempt to meddle in the political process as happened during the 2016 US presidential race.
The ambassador was asked if the US embassy would be watching for signs of foreign interference in the election campaign, or sharing lessons with Australia’s political parties.
“First and foremost we’re making sure that I’m careful not to interfere in your elections,” Mr Culvahouse said.
“That’s one reason, frankly, that the process to get me over here was rushed.”
There was no time for him to attend “ambassador school”.
“So if I breach any protocol, it’s because the State Department made the decision that we want the US ambassador to Australia here sooner rather than later,” he said.
Mr Culvahouse plans to meet federal government and opposition officials before the election campaign kicks off, pledging to share any intelligence the US has to offer.
The ambassador fielded a wide range of questions about the US-Australia alliance, China, North Korea and the Pacific.
The former Reagan administration official admitted to feeling a mix of excitement and nerves as he settles into the new role.
“More nervous than excited right now,” he said.
“It took me a while when I was White House counsel to become comfortable dealing with the press. I’d been there six months before I gave my first press conference.
“Gavin (the embassy’s press secretary) has got me here in three days.”