Initial reports of President Donald Trump’s weekend phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the exchange as generally productive, with some disagreement over President Obama’s promise to take some 1,250 Middle Eastern refugees off Australia’s hands.
According to unnamed “senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange,” who spoke to The Washington Post, the conversation was considerably more heated, and Trump hung up on Turnbull after 25 minutes:
At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladimir Putin — and that “this was the worst call by far.”
[…] “This is the worst deal ever,” Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center.
Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admission of refugees, complained that he was “going to get killed” politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”
The most convincing supporting evidence for the account of these “senior U.S. officials” so far has been Trump himself ripping the Australian refugee deal on Twitter Wednesday night:
Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
Some in the media have objected to Trump’s use of the term “illegal immigrants.” Every country has a legal procedure for granting asylum. Violating that procedure is, by definition, illegal. Australia’s procedures are evidently very difficult to violate, and the consequences for failed attempts are most unpleasant.
What Trump calls the migrants affected would also seem to be far less of a concern than what Australia is doing to them. Australia’s migrant camps have been criticized for squalid conditions, poor medical treatment, beatings, sexual assaults, and even an alleged murder carried out by camp guards. One internee shouted, “I can’t take it any more!” and set himself on fire last year, according to the UK Mirror.
“The United Nations has criticized the camps as cruel and illegal – but Australia believes that if it were to let them in, it would lead to a ‘free for all’ of mass immigration,” the Mirror writes.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that President Trump was “unbelievably disappointed” in the refugee deal, and pledged that any internees taken by the United States will be subjected to “very, very extreme vetting” — which does not answer a question posed by Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, namely what Australia will do with individuals who fail the American vetting process or are not covered by the U.S.-Australian agreement.
“He does not like it but out of respect for [Mr Turnbull] he is going to allow that the process to continue. Under the conditions that have been set that there will be extreme vetting on every single one of those individuals. He wants to ensure while he has respect for the Australian people, respect for Prime Minister Turnbull, that we do not pose a threat to the American people,” Spicer said, as quoted by Australia’s ABC News.
He also insisted the Trump-Turnbull call was “cordial.” Turnbull himself stated, “the report that the President hung up is not correct,” and that the call “ended courteously.”
ABC points to Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, himself a former presidential candidate, as one of Trump’s fiercest critics on this matter. McCain’s criticism was largely limited to recounting the details of the long friendship between the United States and Australia, without arguing that it is acceptable for Australia to put refugees in internment camps or that the United States is obliged to take them.
Trump addressed what ABC calls his “public stoush” with Turnbull at a speech in Washington. “When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it. They’re tough. We have to be tough. It’s time we have to be a little tough, folks. We are taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually. It’s not going to happen anymore,” he said.
On Thursday, Trump added from the White House:
I have a lot of respect for Australia. I love Australia as a country but I have a problem where for whatever reason President Obama said they were going to take probably well over 1000 illegal immigrants who were in prisons. 1250, could be 2000, could be more than that, and I said “Why? Why are we doing this?”