WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump told a national prayer breakfast 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 are going to straighten it out, okay? That is what I do - I fix things," he said late yesterday Singapore time, after saying that freedom of religion was being threatened.
"Believe me, when you hear about the tough phone calls I am having - don't worry about it. Just don't worry about it," he said. "We are taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually. It is not going to happen any more."
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.
A DUMB DEAL
Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!
US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, who tweeted on the resettlement plan involving sending more than 1,000 people who had originally sought asylum in Australia, to the United States.
These conversations are conducted candidly, frankly, privately. If you see reports of them, I am not going to add to them.
AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER MALCOLM TURNBULL, on the call with Mr Trump.
VERY STRONG RELATIONSHIP
I can assure you the relationship is very strong... I always stand up for Australia in every forum, public or private.
MR TURNBULL, on Australia-US relations.
"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."