Spicer says Trump has agreed to honor an Obama administration deal to resettle up to 1,250 migrants rejected by Australia. Trump made the agreement during a conversation with Turnbull last weekend, but has since tweeted, “I will study this dumb deal!”
Turnbull said Trump had asked for nothing in return for resettling the mostly Muslim refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Australia pays the impoverished Pacific countries of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to keep the refugees in camps.
“Absolutely not,” Turnbull said. “It’s a deal obviously that President Trump has said he wouldn’t have entered into, but he has committed to honor it.”
Turnbull said there would be no link between the refugee resettlement and any future US request for military help in the Middle East or the South China Sea.
Australia is one of the largest contributors to the US-led military campaign in Iraq and Syria. Australia has resisted US pressure to conduct freedom of navigation exercises close to artificial islands created by China in the contested South China Sea.
“We assess all requests for military assistance on their merits and there is no linkage at all between an arrangement relating to refugee resettlement and any other matters,” Turnbull said.
The Obama administration agreed to resettle Australia’s refugees after Australia agreed in September last year to accept Costa Rican refugees fleeing drug wars.
Australian media have described the disagreement over the refugee deal as the lowest point in the bilateral alliance since 1973, when Prime Minister Gough Whitlam clashed with President Richard Nixon over a series of bombings during the Vietnam War.
Turnbull has welcomed US support since media reports emerged of his disagreement with Trump during their first conversation.
“I don’t think there has ever been more public support for Australia than there has been his week,” Turnbull said. “We have seen dozens and dozens of congressmen and senators talking about the importance of the Australian alliance and talking about what a great friend we have always been to the US. This has been a very good week for Australia.”