Resettlement deal came after UN intervention

President Donald Trump speaking with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, at the White House in Washington, on Jan 28, 2017.
President Donald Trump speaking with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, at the White House in Washington, on Jan 28, 2017. PHOTO: NYTIMES

CANBERRA • The issue discussed over the phone by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump centres on about 2,500 people who had sought asylum in Australia but were diverted to facilities off the country's coast on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Deplorable conditions at those sites prompted intervention by the United Nations and a pledge from the United States to accept about half of those refugees, provided they passed US security screening.

The resettlement deal, reached with then President Barack Obama, was heralded as the solution, and held up by the Turnbull government as an example of Australia's strong strategic alliance with the US.

Many of the refugees came from Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia, countries listed in Mr Trump's order temporarily barring their citizens from entry to the US.

A special provision in the Trump order allows for exceptions to honour "a pre-existing international agreement", a line that was inserted to cover the Australia deal.

But US officials said Mr Trump continued to fume about the arrangement even after signing the order in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

While Australian leaders have received mixed signals over whether Mr Trump would honour the deal reached in Mr Obama's final days in office, Mr Turnbull said yesterday that Mr Trump gave an assurance during the phone call that the agreement would proceed. He told Mr Trump that to honour the deal, the US would not have to accept all of the refugees, but only allow each to go through the normal vetting procedures, a senior US official said.

At that, Mr Trump vowed to subject each refugee to "extreme vetting", the official added.

The day before the call, White House National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said the President was still evaluating the deal.

BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2017, with the headline 'Resettlement deal came after UN intervention'. Print Edition | Subscribe