Trump, Turnbull put on show of unity

US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at their meeting on Thursday aboard the decommissioned carrier Intrepid, now a museum docked in the Hudson River, to mark the 75th anniversary of the victory of the US and Austr
US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at their meeting on Thursday aboard the decommissioned carrier Intrepid, now a museum docked in the Hudson River, to mark the 75th anniversary of the victory of the US and Australia over Japan in the Battle of the Coral Sea during World War II.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US, Aussie leaders say acrimonious phone call on refugee deal is well behind them

NEW YORK • United States President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull downplayed the testy phone exchange that began their working relationship as they met face to face aboard a decommissioned aircraft carrier in Manhattan.

"We get along great. We have a fantastic relationship. I love Australia, I always have," Mr Trump told reporters who witnessed a portion of the meeting on Thursday between the two wealthy, iconoclastic, deal-making politicians in a room near the ship's main dining area.

The two attended a dinner aboard the Intrepid, now a museum docked in the Hudson River, to honour the 75th anniversary of the strategic victory of the US and Australia over Japan in the Battle of the Coral Sea during World War II.

Their earlier encounter, an acrimonious first phone call in February, was spoiled by Mr Trump's hostile reaction to a deal with Australia that President Barack Obama had negotiated in the final weeks of his second term. In it, the US agreed to take in as many as 1,250 refugees that Australia was holding at offshore detention centres.

FRIENDS FOREVER

We get along great. We have a fantastic relationship. I love Australia, I always have.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, downplaying his testy first encounter with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

MOVING ON

It's all worked out. It's been worked out for a long time. We had a great telephone call. You guys exaggerated that call. That was a big exaggeration. We're not babies.

MR TRUMP, on media reports about the phone call.

During that call, Mr Trump told Mr Turnbull that the agreement would hurt his new administration politically, officials said at the time. The President said on Twitter after the phone conversation that the deal was "dumb" and that he would study it, raising concerns that the US might back out.

The White House later agreed to honour the agreement, provided the refugees were subject to "extreme vetting". Since then, the two leaders have worked to move beyond the phone call.

"We can put the refugee deal behind you and move on," Mr Turnbull said on Thursday.

"It's all worked out. It's been worked out for a long time," Mr Trump added. "We had a great telephone call. You guys exaggerated that call. That was a big exaggeration. We're not babies."

Mr Turnbull chuckled and said: "Young at heart."

Mr Trump added: "We had a very, very good call. That was a little bit of fake news." And Mr Turnbull chimed in: "That's exactly right."

Thursday's dinner was attended by Mr Rupert Murdoch, the Australia-born media mogul and an informal adviser to Mr Trump.

Later, the leaders affirmed their countries' relationship.

Mr Trump described the nations as "rebellious children of the same parent".

The Intrepid visit symbolised the bonds of a military alliance that dates from World War I and that has grown to encompass extensive intelligence-sharing, joint military exercises and shoulder-to-shoulder combat campaigns.

Two weeks ago, the US Navy sent the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and its strike group to the Indian Ocean to conduct a major exercise with warships from the Australian navy. The US Navy kept the date even after it announced that the Carl Vinson was being deployed to the Western Pacific to respond to a growing crisis over North Korea.

Officials said the drills showed the determination of the US Navy not to jilt its Australian partners.

That is not to say Mr Trump's presidency has not rattled Australia. His statements about putting America's interests first - and his warnings that allies have to pay a greater share of their own security - have left some in Australia questioning whether the US will retreat from its position in Asia.

During their meeting, Mr Trump briefed Mr Turnbull about his strategy for dealing with the mounting nuclear threat from North Korea. They also talked about the US-led campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2017, with the headline 'Trump, Turnbull put on show of unity'. Print Edition | Subscribe