NEW YORK (REUTERS) – Declaring they “get along great,” United States President Donald Trump held his first-face-to-face meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday (May 4) following an acrimonious phone call in January that strained ties between the two allies.
Wearing black-tie tuxedos as they prepared to attend a dinner together, the two leaders met on board the USS Intrepid, a World War Two aircraft carrier that is now a museum, moored on Manhattan’s West Side. They were attending a gala to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Turnbull was one of the first foreign leaders Trump spoke to after taking office on Jan 20. The Republican president became irritated that he was expected to honour an agreement made by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, to accept 1,250 refugees.
Trump had broken off what was supposed to be an hour-long call after 25 minutes and later tweeted that the refugee agreement was a “dumb deal” and vowed to study it. The call aroused criticism and raised questions about his diplomatic skills.
Vice President Mike Pence visited Australia in April and made clear that while Trump was not happy about it, the United States would honour the agreement out of respect for Australia.
The get-together with Turnbull was delayed because of Trump’s hastily arranged White House celebration with fellow Republicans from the US House of Representatives who narrowly passed a healthcare bill that would repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
Trump and Turnbull were all smiles as they answered questions about the phone call and refugee deal during a picture-taking session.
“We get along great. We have a fantastic relationship, I love Australia, I always have,” Trump said. Turnbull added: “We can put the refugee deal behind you and move on.”
Trump said the refugee deal had been “worked out for a long time” and that reporters had exaggerated their phone call. “We had a great call,” he said, while adding: “I mean, we’re not babies.” “Young at heart,” added Turnbull.
Trump vowed to visit Australia as president, calling it “one of the great, great places” and noted he had many friends there. One such friend, pro golfer Greg Norman, was among the attendees at the Intrepid dinner.
Turnbull called the Coral Sea battle “a turning point in the war” and that it was when “America and Australia started to win.” “We’ve been allies for 99 years,” said Trump.
It was Trump’s first trip back to New York, where he made his name and fortune, since the former real estate executive moved into the White House in January.
His motorcade passed hundreds of protesters as it arrived at the Intrepid in the early evening. Trump did not plan to visit Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, but instead was to spend the weekend at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.