Malcolm Turnbull told Donald Trump that Australia would take any refugee the US nominated – including “not very attractive” ones – if the President honoured the asylum seeker relocation deal brokered with Barack Obama, according to a sensationally leaked transcript of their infamous first phone call.
The classified transcript of the January 28 conversation between the two leaders was published Thursday night (AEST) by The Washington Post, along with the contents of another call between Mr Trump and the Mexican President Peña Nieto.
The transcript shows that as Mr Trump reluctantly agreed to honour the agreement, he offered his counterpart a backhanded compliment upon learning of Australia’s hardline position on asylum seekers.
“You are worse than I am,” Mr Trump told Mr Turnbull when the PM said his government refused to settle boat people in Australia in order to deter people smugglers.
Mr Turnbull spent much of the call lobbying his counterpart, telling Mr Trump that Australia would take “anyone that you want us to take” under the refugee swap deal negotiated with the Obama administration.
“We would rather take a not very attractive guy [to] help you out than to take a Nobel Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point,” he told the President.
He also told Mr Trump that the 1250 refugees on Manus Island and Nauru that Mr Obama agreed to resettle the US deal were “economic refugees”.
The President appeared to know very little about the resettlement agreement.
The PM’s testy 25-minute conversation with the President attracted worldwide headlines in January when details of the call were leaked, including that a furious Mr Trump had attacked Mr Turnbull for asking him to honour a “bad deal”.
According to the full transcript, prepared by White House aides and sensationally leaked to the Post, Mr Trump suggested Australia consider releasing detainees held on Manus Island, telling Mr Turnbull: “Maybe you should let them out of prison.”
Describing himself as a “highly transactional businessman like you”, Mr Turnbull was forced to regain control of the conversation a number of times as Mr Trump became increasingly aggrieved.
“Can you hear me out Mr President?” he said early in the call.
When Mr Trump claimed the agreement would in fact force the US to accept 2000 refugees, Mr Turnbull responded: “With great respect, that is not right – It is not 2000.”
Despite relenting to Mr Turnbull, Mr Trump expressed frustration that he would have to honour a “rotten” deal that “shows me to be a dope” and “look so foolish”.
“The only way that I can do this is to say that my predecessor made a deal and I have no option then to honour the deal,” Mr Trump said.
“I hate having to do it, but I am still going to vet them very closely. Suppose I vet them closely and I do not take any?”
To which Mr Turnbull replied: “That is the point I have been trying to make.”
In a similar exchange, he told Mr Trump: “You can certainly say that it was not a deal that you would have done, but you are going to stick with it.”
The President also boasted of his electoral victory, “They said I had no way to 270 and I got 306 (electoral colleges)” and spoke in his trademark blunt style throughout the conversation.
“You have brokered many a stupid deal in business and I respect you, but I guarantee that you broke many a stupid deal,” he told Mr Turnbull.
“This is a stupid deal. This deal will make me look terrible.”
When the details of the calls were initially leaked earlier in the year, Mr Turnbull denied that the President had hung up on him.
It is unclear from the transcript whether this occurs, though the call does appear to end abruptly.
“As far as I am concerned that is enough Malcom [sic],” Mr Trump says towards the end of the conversation.
“I have had it. I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.”
When Mr Turnbull asked Mr Trump if he would like to discuss Syria or North Korea, the President responded: “This is crazy”.
Describing the refugee deal once more, Mr Trump said: “It is important to you and it is embarrassing to me. It is an embarrassment to me, but at least I got you off the hook. So you put me back on the hook.”
In response, the PM said: “You can count on me. I will be there again and again.”