U.S. President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have pledged long-term friendship between the two countries, despite rumors of strife between them stemming from a phone call earlier this year.
“We have a great relationship,” Trump told reporters after meeting with Turnbull late Thursday ahead of a dinner honoring U.S. and Australian veterans of a pivotal World War II battle. He called stories that he had once hung up the phone on the prime minister “a little bit of fake news, as the saying goes.”
In remarks at the dinner, Trump said he and Turnbull had discussed “crucial issues ranging from international security to trade.” He said the two leaders had “reaffirmed the tremendous friendship” between the two countries and the “vital importance” of a continued alliance with one another.
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Confidence and trust
“We are confident and we trust each other,” Turnbull said of the countries’ relationship during his remarks. He and Trump also expressed gratitude to a handful of elderly veterans of the Battle of Coral Sea, which occurred 75 years ago this week.
Noting that Australian and U.S. forces worked together to repel Japanese forces trying to take control of the Pacific waters near Australia, Turnbull said, “our nation’s freedom was secured by the bravery of the men on those ships. And the men on the planes who flew through everything the enemy, and the weather, threw their way.”
Turnbull concluded his remarks with a tribute to the current members of the U.S. and Australian military forces, saying, “You keep us free.”
“America and Australia are old friends and really natural partners, and with your help will remain so for a very, very long time to come," noted Brendan Thomas-Noone, a research fellow at the United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney. He says officials in Canberra will be relieved tensions caused by that testy phone call three months ago have eased.
“I think it did shock the Australian side quite a bit, but obviously three months on and the fact Vice President Pence and President Trump now have reaffirmed the deal, definitely will calm some nerves I think in the government," Thomas-Noone said.
Australia’s Labor opposition leader, Bill Shorten, suggested that Turnbull had been disrespected by being forced to wait for three hours for a brief meeting with the U.S. President. However, many Australian commentators believe the delay was caused by understandable domestic political necessities. President Trump had delayed traveling to New York for the 30 minute meeting to remain in Washington while the healthcare bill replacement passed the House of Representatives.
Turnbull, however, seemed unperturbed.
Analysts believe the Australia-U.S. relationship has been reset following the leaders’ meeting in New York, where they discussed economic and national security concerns, as well as migration issues. A bilateral military alliance dates back to the early 1950s.
Late arrival to New York
Trump arrived in New York later than planned, delaying his scheduled meeting with the prime minister by several hours while he remained in Washington until the House of Representatives signed a pivotal health care bill that would replace the Affordable Care Act. Getting rid of the health care reform plan nicknamed Obamacare was one of Trump’s key campaign promises.
Despite the wait, the two leaders were all smiles following a short meeting after Trump arrived in New York.
This is the first face-to-face meeting between the two men since Trump abruptly ended an introductory phone call with Turnbull in February. Trump objected to a pre-existing agreement between Washington and Canberra that the U.S. would accept some refugees currently in Australian custody.
Trump reportedly called the deal “dumb” and “the worst deal ever” before ending the call. He also is reported to have told Turnbull that he had spoken to four other world leaders that day, but that his phone call with Turnbull “was the worst call by far.”
Turnbull later denied reports that the American president had hung up on him. He said in a radio interview: “The call ended courteously, that’s all I want to say about that.”
After the dinner, Trump is not expected to go to his Manhattan headquarters, Trump Tower, but instead will spend the weekend at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Phil Mercer contributed to this report from Sydney, Australia