Donald Trump says 'tough phone calls' needed because 'world is in trouble'

US President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull in the Oval Office.
US President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull in the Oval Office. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON (REUTERS/BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump told a national prayer breakfast on Thursday (Feb 2) that the world is in trouble, the United States is being taken advantage of, and that he was having "tough phone calls" as he worked to address issues.

"The world is in trouble, but we're going to straighten it out, OK? That's what I do - I fix things," Trump said, after saying that freedom of religion was threatened.

"Believe me, when you hear about the tough phone calls I'm having - don't worry about it. Just don't worry about it," he said.

"We're taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually. It's not going to happen anymore," he said.

His words came after Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull denied reports that Mr Trump hung up on him during a phone call at the weekend, insisting that his conversation with the US leader ended "courteously", Australia's Channel 9 news website reported.

 

Mr Turnbull's denial came after the new US President blasted a refugee resettlement deal with Australia in a late-night tweet, throwing the fate of more than 1,000 displaced people and the US' relationship with a key ally 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!," Mr Trump tweeted. The resettlement plan involves sending refugees being held by Australia in offshore camps and many of whom are from the Middle East or South Asia, on to the US.

The tweet came after Mr Turnbull defended his relationship with Australia's biggest ally in the wake of a Washington Post report that Mr Trump had berated him over the deal. Mr Trump "abruptly ended" a phone call with the Australian leader on Jan 28 after 25 minutes, even though they had been scheduled to speak for an hour, the paper said, citing unidentified US officials briefed about the conversation.

During the call, Mr Trump labelled the resettlement plan "the worst deal ever", the paper reported. The President told Mr Turnbull he had spoken to four other global leaders that day, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, and "this was the worst call by far", it said.

But in the radio interview yesterday after Mr Trump's tweet, Mr Turnbull said he still expects the deal to go ahead. He added that he was "very disappointed" by the leak, and said the call with Mr Trump ended "courteously".

"The question is, will he commit to honour the deal, and he has given that commitment," Mr Turnbull said. The call with the President was "very frank and forthright", he said, declining to give further details. Earlier in the day when asked about the Washington Post report, Mr Turnbull described Australia's relationship with the US as "very strong".

Australia is the only country to have fought beside the US in every one of its conflicts since World War I, and is now flying combat missions in Syria. It is also part of the exclusive Five Eyes network for joint cooperation in signals intelligence, along with the US, Canada, Britain and New Zealand.

Former president Barack Obama heralded Australia as a vital link in his pivot to Asia, securing in 2011 a deal to base as many as 2,500 Marines in the port of Darwin.

Mr John Blaxland, a senior fellow at the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in Canberra, said many Australians would find the situation troubling.

"Australia has invested in this relationship and has been a faithful partner, especially since the declaration of the global war on terror," he said. "Trump needs Australia to support its interests in the Asia-Pacific."