WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump ripped into his Australian counterpart during their call last week, The Washington Post reported, castigating a refugee accord he described Wednesday as a “dumb deal.”
The new US leader reportedly abruptly cut short his call with Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull after criticizing the agreement to re-home people and exulting over his electoral college victory in the November poll, according to the paper.
Australia is considered one of the United States’ closest allies — one of the so-called “Five Eyes” with which the US routinely shares sensitive intelligence — and one might have expected the call to be smooth sailing.
But, according to the Post, Trump’s assessment was the opposite.
Of his four conversations with world leaders that day, “this was the worst call by far,” it cited him as telling Turnbull, shortly before he terminated the telephone meeting.
Turnbull demurred Thursday when asked about the report.
“I appreciate your interest, but it’s better that these things — these conversations are conducted candidly, frankly, privately,” he said.
“I can assure you the relationship is very strong.”
The Post’s account of the conversation is markedly different from the official readout of the call provided by both governments.
Turnbull said Monday that Trump had agreed to honor the deal struck with then-President Barack Obama to resettle an unspecified number of the 1,600 people Australia holds in offshore processing centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
There were fears the new US president would rescind it after he signed an executive order last week to suspend the arrival of refugees to the US for a least 120 days, and bar entry for three months to people from seven Muslim-majority countries.
After the Post story broke late Wednesday, Trump weighed in on Twitter and threw the agreement into doubt.
“Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!” he wrote.
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
Reports of the Turnbull-Trump conversation came as the US and Mexican governments were denying claims that the former reality TV star had threatened to send troops into Mexico to deal with drug cartels.
Mexican journalist Dolia Estevez, citing “confidential” US and Mexican sources, said Trump made the threat during an hour-long phone call with President Enrique Pena Nieto on Friday.
Mexican and White House officials vehemently denied the report.
Relations have plunged into the biggest diplomatic crisis between the two neighbors in decades.
Trump angered Mexicans last week by ordering the construction of a massive border wall and vowing to make their country pay for the wall.
Pena Nieto has pledged that his government will never pay for the barrier and he canceled a meeting with Trump scheduled for this week in Washington.
In addition to the row over the wall, Trump wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. Mexican officials expect talks to begin in May.