- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Australian prime minister declined to comment on reports that President Trump had hung up on him after a testy exchange over a refugee program.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in his country on Thursday that Australia’s relationship with the U.S. remained “very strong” and that the refugee deal, signed with the Obama administration, remained intact.

The Washington Post had reported that Mr. Trump lost his cool when discussing the deal, which requires that the U.S. resettle refugees from among more than 1,500 asylum seekers being held on small Pacific islands.

According to the Post, Mr. Trump called the pact “the worst deal ever” and accused Australia of exporting the “next Boston bombers.”

But Mr. Turnbull denied that, saying that “the president assured me he would follow through” on the deal.

“I’m not going to comment on these reports out of the U.S. on this conversation,” the prime minister said.

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Mr. Trump took to Twitter himself late Wednesday night and appeared to contradict the prime minister’s assessment, saying he still wanted to examine the deal.

“Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!” he tweeted.

According to Laura Jayes of Sky News Australia, citing sources from the Australian side of the conversation, the call involved considerable pushback from her country’s leader and as a result devolved into “yelling” before Mr. Trump hung up.

She said Mr. Turnbull went into the conversation with the mentality that “to confront a bully, you need to bully back.”

Mr. Turnbull nevertheless maintained at his Thursday press conference that the fact that the deal remains intact testifies to the strength of the bilateral relationship.

“I can assure you the relationship is very strong,” he said. “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.”

Sky News Australia reported that the deal cut with the Obama administration wasn’t formal, but a handshake agreement reached on the assumption that Hillary Clinton would be the next U.S. president. As a result, its analysts praised Mr. Turnbull and their country’s diplomats in Washington for keeping the “deal” intact.

• Victor Morton can be reached at vmorton@washingtontimes.com.

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