It wasn’t a pleasant phone call between US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, reported ‘The Washington Post’, adding the call was abruptly cut short. Among the subjects discussed was a refugee swap deal which two nations had signed during the tenure of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.
Asked about the reports published in top US national daily, the Australian PM confirmed he spoke candidly and frankly with Trump, but he refused to confirm the report which claimed that the latter had berated him over a refugee swap deal.
The Washington Post report said Trump had described the call with the leader of Australia, one of the United States’ staunchest allies, as “the worst so far”.
The deal was agreed late last year between Australia and the administration of former President Barack Obama. The newspaper described Aussie-US ties as extremely close, especially in the view of fact that Australia has fought alongside US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I’ve seen that report and I’m not going to comment on the conversation, other than to say that in the course of the conversation, as you know and as was confirmed by the President’s official spokesman and the White House, the President assured me that he would continue with, honour, the agreement we entered into with the Obama administration with respect to refugee resettlement,” Turnbull told the press today in Dandenong South, in the state of Victoria.
As part of the deal, Washington agreed to resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers held in offshore processing camps on tiny Pacific islands in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. In return, Australia would resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Quoting unidentified senior US officials briefed on the conversation, the Washington Post reported the call had been scheduled to last an hour but the Post said Trump cut it short after 25 minutes when Turnbull tried to turn to other subjects, such as Syria.
It also said Trump described the plan as “the worst deal ever” and accused Australia of trying to export the “next Boston bombers”.
Refusing to comment on the contents of the call, Turnbull, however, stressed that he believed the resettlement deal remained in place.
“I’m not going to comment on a conversation between myself and the President of the United States, other than what we have said publicly, and you can surely understand the reasons for that. I appreciate your interest but it’s better that these things, these conversations are conducted candidly, frankly, privately, if you’ll see reports of them, I’m not going to add to them,’ he said.
The Washington Post report received almost blanket coverage in Australian media and later in the International press, including the Indian subcontinent.
“Well, I’m not going to, I can assure you the relationship is very strong. The fact that we received the assurance that we did, the fact that it was confirmed, the very extensive engagement we have will the new administration underlines the closeness of the alliance. But, as Australians know me very well, I stand up for Australia in every forum – public or private,” added Turnbull.
The resettlement deal was thrown into confusion after Trump signed an executive order last week that suspended the US refugee programme and restricted entry to the United States for travellers from seven Muslim majority countries.
The Washington Post report also said that Trump boasted to Turnbull about the size of his election victory.
(With inputs from the Agencies)