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Trump Disparages 'Dumb' Deal With Australia On Refugees

Alex Brandon
President Trump speaks on the phone with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with national security adviser Michael Flynn (center) and chief strategist Steve Bannon in the Oval Office of the White House on Saturday.

Ruffling U.S. ties with one of its closest allies, President Trump is sharply criticizing an Obama-era agreement with Australia — a deal that also reportedly prompted the American leader to tell Australia's prime minister that his was the "worst" phone call Trump received after his inauguration.

Late Wednesday night, the president vented his anger on Twitter, saying: "Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!"

As the Australian Broadcasting Network notes, Trump's tweet "incorrectly labels refugees 'illegal immigrants' and cites 'thousands' of people instead of 1,250."

The deal concerns refugees, many of them children, who've been housed in offshore detention centers on Nauru and other islands. The arrangement has been controversial in Australia, particularly after incidents of abuse emerged.

Stefan Postles / Getty Images
Getty Images
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he's aware President Trump doesn't like a bilateral deal on refugees, but he believes the American leader will honor the commitment.

Speaking to a radio station in Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he's aware Trump doesn't like the agreement, but, he added, the question is will he commit to honor the deal. He has given that commitment."

Turnbull says he's disappointed that details about his communication with Trump were leaked — and while acknowledging that the talk was "very frank and forthright," he has dismissed the version of events reported by some outlets, that the American president hung up on his Australian counterpart.

"The report that the president hung up is not correct," Turnbull told Sydney radio station 2GB. "The call ended courteously."

After news of the apparent rift emerged, Sen. John McCain said he called the Australian ambassador "to express my unwavering support for alliance" with the country that he described as one of America's oldest friends and allies. The two allies, McCain noted, have fought together from World War I to Vietnam and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Melbourne, Louisa Lim reports for our Newscast unit:

"The trouble started during an acrimonious telephone call between Trump and Turnbull. The U.S. president had spoken to four other world leaders. But he told Turnbull this was the 'worst call by far' and ended it abruptly, according to The Washington Post."

Louisa adds, "This episode has already added weight to calls for Australia to re-evaluate its decision to host U.S. Marines."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.