- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2017

In a sit-down meeting Thursday with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, President Trump smoothed over relations strained by a flap over refugees early in his presidency and reaffirmed the key alliance for confronting North Korea and Islamic terrorism.

Mr. Trump downplayed the early rift over Mr. Turnbull wanting the U.S. to accept 1,250 refugees stranded off the coast of Australia, saying reports of the testy phone call were “exaggerated” and “fake news.”

“We are not babies. We had a very, very great call,” Mr. Trump said.

“We can put the refugee deal behind you and move on,” Mr. Turnball said at a brief photo-op with reporters.

The president added: “It’s all worked out. It’s been worked out for a long time.”

Rising tension with North Korea, which has threatened more tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, topped the agenda in the two leaders’ first face-to-face meeting. They also were expected to discuss the fight against the Islamic State terror group and trade between the two countries.

The meeting in New York also marked Mr. Trump’s first trip home to the city since his inauguration as president.

Protesters welcomed Mr. Trump home, lining the street approaching the Intrepid and waving signs with messages such as: “Big Failure” and “Guilty President.”

Underscoring the close ties between their countries, the two leaders attended a black-tie gala abroad the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier converted into a maritime museum on the Hudson River, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of World War II’s Battle of Coral Sea.

The battle, a major Pacific Theater turning point after a continuous string of Japanese successes, cemented the U.S. bond with Australia, which has fought alongside the U.S. in every major 20th- and 21st-century war including the ongoing war on terrorism since 9-11.

The event aboard the Intrepid was hosted by the American Australian Association.

“That was some battle. That was a very important battle for both of us,” Mr. Trump said. “We did it together.”

“It was a turning point in the wall,” Mr. Turnbull said. “The United States and Australia started to win.”

The relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Turnbull got off to a rough start in a February phone call when Mr. Trump balked at an Obama administration deal for the U.S. to take in 1,250 refugees stranded off the coast of Australia.

The awkward exchange in the call, just two weeks after Mr. Trump arrived in the Oval Office, was among the early leaks to embarrass the new president.

At the time, Mr. Trump called it his “worst call by far” and then tweeted that he would study “this dumb deal.”

Vice President Mike Pence later said they would abide by the deal to honor the nations’ historic alliance.

Under the agreement, the U.S. accepted the refugees, mostly men believed to be fleeing Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq. In exchange, Australia would accept refugees from Central America.

Mr. Turnbull’s government had refused to bring the Middle East refugees to Australia. Instead, the refugees have been detained on the nearby island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Turnbull were scheduled to hold lengthy bilateral meetings Thursday afternoon in at a ritzy New York hotel. But Mr. Trump delayed his departure from the White House to do a victory lap for the long-stalled passage by the House of a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Mr. Trump called the prime minister to explain the delay and the rescheduled meeting for later abroad the Intrepid, where the two men intended to dine together after the bilateral meetings. Mr. Trump and Mr. Turnbull met privately for about 15 minutes prior to the dinner.

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