In a tense telephone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, President Donald Trump has reportedly accused Canberra of trying to export terrorists to the US, pledging to review a “dumb deal” to take in hundreds of asylum seekers.
As part of the deal agreed by Australia and the Obama administration in November, Washington gave the go-ahead to take in up to 1,250 asylum seekers to Australia held in offshore processing camps on Pacific nations Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
In return, Canberra would resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
In a tweet on Wednesday night, in which he referred to the asylum seekers as “illegal immigrants,” Trump wrote: “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal.”
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) 2 февраля 2017 г.
Trump had described the Saturday phone call with the leader of Australia, which had been scheduled to last 60 minutes but reportedly took less than half that, as “the worst so far,” the Washington Post said, citing unidentified senior US officials briefed on the call.
Trump said he was “going to get killed” politically, accusing Canberra of an attempt to export the “next Boston bombers,” the newspaper said.
According to the Australian Department of Immigration, there are 383 detainees on Nauru and 871 on Manus in northern Papua New Guinea.
In October, Amnesty International accused Australia of turning Nauru into an “open-air prison,” saying that the government is subjecting asylum seekers to an “elaborate and cruel system of abuse.”
Turnbull told Trump during their phone conversation that Washington would not have to accept all of the refugees, but only to allow each through the normal vetting procedures. At that, Trump vowed to subject each refugee to “extreme vetting,” the senior US official told the newspaper, adding that the US president did not see a specific advantage America would gain by honoring the deal.
The call only lasted a quarter of an hour, ending with Trump hanging up on Turnbull after the Australian PM attempted to discuss other subjects, such as Syria, the Post reported.
Officials said that the president told the Australian PM that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day – Russian President Vladimir Putin among them – and that “this was the worst call by far.”
The US officials also told the Post that although Trump had been firm in conversations with other state leaders, including Mexico, his treatment of Turnbull stood out because of the special bond between the US and Australia, countries which fought together in wars including in Iraq and Afghanistan and shared intelligence.
Turnbull has declined to shed light on the contents of the call.
“These conversations are conducted candidly, frankly, privately. If you see reports of them, I’m not going to add to them,” he told the media in Melbourne, as quoted by Reuters.
The official read-out of Trump’s conversation with Turnbull meanwhile stated that the two leaders had “emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the US-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.”
Before Washington appeared to backtrack on the resettlement deal, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said the US would take 1,250 people from the detention centers.
“There will be extreme vetting applied to all of them,” the White House spokesman said on Tuesday. “That is part and parcel of the deal that was made. And it was made by the Obama administration with the full backing of the United States government,” he added.
Last week Trump caused an uproar when he signed an executive order banning citizens of Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iran from entering the US for 90 days.
Rejecting allegations that the step amounted to a “Muslim ban,” Trump said it will only be in place until new security policies are implemented. “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe,” Trump said in a statement on Sunday, adding that there are more than “40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.”
“My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror,” he noted.