US Politics

Talking with Turnbull 'worst call by far', Trump says: Washington Post

US President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, in the Oval Office in Washington, DC, USA, 28 January 2017. Source: UPI POOL

'This is the worst deal ever,' President Donald Trump reportedly said of the refugee deal with Australia, according to the Washington Post.

A reporter behind a Washington Post scoop revealing the hostile nature of the first official call between Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull has told SBS it is an "indication of souring relations".

Washington Post White House bureau chief, Philip Rucker,said the call between the new US president and the prime minster was "unexpectedly hostile" as a result of a refugee deal reached under the Obama administration.

"The president got very upset with the prime minister over a refugee agreement that had been reached under President Obama to allow a number of refugees from Australia, about 1200, to come to the United States," he said.

"President Trump felt like this would be a danger to the national security of the United States and actually told the prime minister that he doesn’t want to let in the next Boston bomber."

Rucker said the "professional disagreement" over the policy, which would transfer refugees on Manus Island and Nauru in the US, saw Trump end the call significantly earlier than the planned hour-long conversation.

"It ended abruptly after about 25 minutes and a real indication of souring relations," he said.

"Trump actually told the prime minister that he had spoken with four other world leaders earlier that day, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, but he told your prime minister, ‘this was the worst talk by far’."

That day Trump had also spoken to the leaders of Japan, France, Russia and Germany, among others.

Rucker said, while Trump had said "it was his intention" to honour the deal, he had left himself some "wiggle room" to pull out at a later date.

"One of the things he told the prime minister that it was a bad deal, and that it would hurt him politically, quote ‘he was going to get killed’ politically in the United States for allowing these refugees in, so we’ll see," he said

"It might be a relationship they can repair, but this refugee issue is something Trump has focused very much on in his opening week.

"What Trump told the prime minister was that he would be doing ‘extreme vetting’ on these refugees."

However, speaking to 2GB on Thursday afternoon, Mr Turnbull said he was disappointed by the leak of the purported details of his call with Mr Trump.

He said the call was courteous and that Mr Trump did not hang up on him.

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn Senior Counselor to the President Steve Bannon
President Trump speaks with Prime Minister Turnbull, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Senior Counselor to the President Steve Bannon listen in.

A White House official told the paper the conversation was "hostile and charged", unlike more "productive and pleasant" conversations with other leaders.

Mr Trump also used the Saturday afternoon call as an opportunity to boast of the size of his electoral college victory, the paper reported.

Confusion has reigned in recent days over the status of the refugee deal.

In a recent statement to the ABC, the White House said the deal was still "under consideration". 

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer - who was reportedly listening in on the Trump-Turnbull conversation - had earlier said that Trump would honour the deal.

The Washington Post characterised the Obama administration's deal as a response to the "deplorable conditions" in Manus and Nauru and an intervention by the United Nations.

In a press conference held shortly after the explosive article was released, Mr Turnbull refused to comment.

“I’ve seen that report and I’m not going to comment on that conversation,” he said.

Mr Turnbull reiterated his previous comment that President Trump assured him during the call that the US would honour a refugee transfer deal struck between Australia and the Obama administration.

When pressed on whether Mr Trump cut the call short, Mr Turnbull refused to be drawn.

“Thanks for your inquiry but I’m not going to comment on these reports out of the United States about the conversation,” he said.

Mr Turnbull later appeared to channel the billionaire businessman in his defence of a personal donation of $1.75 million to the Liberal party during the last election campaign.

“I’m my own man, I can’t be bought, I don’t belong to anybody,” Prime Minister Turnbull said.

Mr Trump stridently differentiated himself from a crowded field in the Republican primary battle by claiming his wealth meant he couldn’t be bought by lobbyists and donors.

Following phone call on Saturday the White House issued a two-sentence statement.

“President Donald J. Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke by phone for twenty-five minutes today. Both leaders emphasised the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally,” the statement read.

More extensive readouts were provided for other major conversations that day, which included calls with French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.

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