Donald Trump and Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull have met for a patch-things-up summit in New York, with the US president saying an earlier telephone spat was “all worked out.” Trump yesterday claimed a bad-tempered call with the Australian prime minister early in his White House tenure had been “fake news” that was a “big exaggeration” by the media. Trump reportedly exploded and cut short the call when he was told about a Barack Obama-era deal to move refugees from Australia to America. The president took to Twitter afterward to label the agreement as “dumb,” rattling a decades-old alliance. “It’s all worked out. It’s been worked out for a long time,” Trump said, as the pair, dressing in black tie, smiled and swapped legislative war stories.
“We had a great telephone call. You guys exaggerated that call. That was a big exaggeration. We’re not babies,” Trump said, reverting to his favoured tactic of media-bashing. “We get along great. We have a fantastic relationship, I love Australia, I always have,” Trump said as the pair met for the first time. Turnbull said that “we can put the refugee deal behind you and move on.” Trump and Turnbull gathered in New York, hoping to steady the long-standing alliance after relations soured at a time of growing tensions in the Asia-Pacific.
The two leaders convened on a decommissioned aircraft carrier, the Intrepid, in New York, to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. The World War II fight against Japanese forces forged an alliance that has seen Australia pitch in alongside the United States in every major conflict since. Trump’s first return to his hometown since becoming president was marked by protests. Hundreds of opponents, shouted slogans as his motorcade passed. The crisis over North Korea’s nuclear and weapons programs and a fence-mending trip by Vice President Mike Pence to Sydney appears to have eased tension between the United States and Australia.
After meeting Turnbull, Pence said the United States would take the refugees but added it “doesn’t mean we admire the agreement.” Turnbull, like Trump a businessman-turned-politician, has said he is “delighted” to meet with the US leader and affirm the relationship. Trump, for his part, said he would be happy to travel Down Under. “Oh that will happen. It’s one of the great, great places. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I have so many friends there. I’ll be there. We’ll be there — absolutely we’ll be there.”
The advent of Trump has invigorated a debate over Australia’s place in the world and whether its future lies with an unpredictable United States, or a closer relationship with China, its top trading partner. Several former senior Australian diplomats have also urged Canberra to rethink ties with the US in light of China’s rise. The icy start was cooled further by Washington’s withdrawal from a trans-Pacific trade agreement that would have given Australian businesses greater access to the US and key regional markets.