President Donald Trump reportedly had a less than cordial call with the leader of Australia, one of the US's closest allies, on 28 January. A planned hour-long exchange was abruptly ended 25 minutes in after Trump berated Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a previous US-Australia refugee agreement.
Senior US officials briefed about the exchange told The Washington Post that Trump allegedly blasted the refugee agreement and later boasted about his electoral college victory. Trump went on to tell Turnbull that of the five conversations he had had with world leaders that day, including a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, "This was the worst call by far."
When Turnbull attempted to confirm the US would honour its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention centre, Trump was said to have responded: "This is the worst deal ever."
The president, who had signed an executive order temporarily banning the admission of refugees into the US the day prior to the call, allegedly told Turnbull that he was "going to get killed" politically.
Many of the refugees who are set to come to the US from Australia hail from countries listed in Trump's executive order, including Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia. According to The Washington Post, Trump went on to accuse Australia of attempting to export the "next Boston bombers".
US officials said the president acted similarly in conversations with other nations, including Mexico, the Washington Post reported. While a senior administration official acknowledged the call with Turnbull had turned hostile, they noted that most of Trump's calls with foreign leaders were pleasant and productive.
The reports from US officials differ from the accounts coming from the White House and give an insight into the new president's unorthodox approach to diplomacy. The White House's read-out of the conversation with Turnbull claimed the two had "emphasised the enduring strength and closeness of the US-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally."
However, officials claimed that Trump had told Turnbull he did not "want these people" and repeatedly misstated the number of refugees included in the agreement. He told Turnbull that it was his "intention" to honour the agreement, but a senior US official said the phrase was designed to give him the ability to back out of the agreement in the future.
The senior US official said that Turnbull reminded Trump that in order to honour the agreement, the US would only have to allow the refugees to go through the normal vetting process. Trump responded by promising that each refugee would undergo "extreme vetting".
Trump was joined by chief strategist Stephen Bannon, national security adviser Michael Flynn and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, the Washington Post reported. When Turnbull attempted to change the topic of the conversation from refugees to Syria and other foreign issues, Trump reportedly ended the call.
The report by The Washington Post was "substantially accurate," according to senior Australian government sources who spoke to ABC. When asked about the conversation, Turnbull said he would not comment but added: "I can assure you the relationship is very strong. The fact we received the assurance that we did, the fact that it was confirmed, the very extensive engagement we have with the new administration underlines the closeness of the alliance. But as Australians know me very well — I stand up for Australia in every forum — public or private."
In a late night tweet, Trump said: "Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!"