U.S.-Australia relationship strong enough to weather Turnbull-Trump ‘Snafu’


HALA GORANI, PRESENTER: Well, the United States and Australia have a long-standing alliance. But to friend and foe alike, President Trump has shown that he does not mince words.

Sources tell CNN President Trump had a heated exchange with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over an Obama-era agreement to accept refugees.

Mr. Trump on Twitter called the deal “dumb”, and reportedly ended the call abruptly.

Here’s what Malcolm Turnbull had to say about the call on Australian radio.

MALCOLM TURNBULL (AUDIO RECORDING): He committed to honor a deal done by his predecessor that no doubt he would say that he would not have done himself.

But he committed to stick to the deal that President Obama has done.

I’m very pleased that he made that commitment and I thanked him for it.

HALA GORANI: Kevin Rudd knows the long-standing alliance between the two countries better than most as a former Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

He’s live in Abu Dhabi this evening.

Mr. Rudd, thanks for being with us.

First of all, your reaction when you heard about this call.

What did you make of it?

KEVIN RUDD: Look, I think the U.S.-Australia relationship is big enough, old enough and ugly enough to cope with this snafu.

It’s been around for the better part of a hundred years.

In fact, it’s a hundred years this year since Australians and Americans first went into battle with each other on the Western Front.

So I think this snafu, as I think it will be seen, will blow over, and we’ll get back to the fundamentals of the relationship.

And on that, both sides of politics in the U.S. and in Australia remain deeply committed.

HALA GORANI: You call it a “snafu”, but I mean it is unprecedented in modern history that a U.S. President would basically call a deal his country has committed to “dumb”.

According to our reporter, our White House reporter, he signaled to his aides that he wanted to end the call early and ended it abruptly!

I mean is that not something that you find any cause for concern about?

KEVIN RUDD: Well the bottom line is neither or us, you or I, were party to the actual conversation itself, so we’ll let the two principals place their accounts of the call on the record.

But on the broader question of disagreements between the United States and Australia within this alliance, we’ve had stacks of them over the years.

When I was Prime Minister of Australia, I came into office with President Bush, who was a strong proponent of the Iraq War, I was a bitter opponent of the war from the get-go, and we had some very testy and difficult times.

So these things come and they go.

The key thing I think though is the fundamentals of this alliance have survived 14 U.S. Presidents, 14 Australian Prime Ministers, both sides of politics, and it’ll keep going in the future because we’ve got mutual interests at stake.

HALA GORANI: And when you talk about mutual interests you’re talking of course also about a military presence in Australia, 1,250 marines stationed in Darwin.

I mean the United States needs Australian cooperation in this part of the world, doesn’t it?

KEVIN RUDD: Well alliances between the U.S. and its allies in the Pacific will always be a two-way street.

There are alliances with Japan, with Korea, the Philippines, ourselves, and of course in Europe and the Atlantic you have NATO as well.

I think what this President though is indicating is that he intends to be demanding more from his allies in general, and obviously his style of diplomacy is vastly different from his recent predecessors.

He’s much more in your face and I suppose the diplomacy of the rest of us has kind of got to get used to that.

So I think we’re going to have some rocky times ahead.

HALA GORANI: You seem to admire his style!

I mean from what you’re saying you seem to think that this is, you know, just style not substance, that the relationship will survive in the way that it is intact.

That this is just something the world has to get used to, this type of leadership style from Donald Trump.

Is it something you find admirable?

KEVIN RUDD: I simply take it for what it is.

He’s the President, he’s been elected, that’s the way in which he’s conducting himself.

The rest of us have to deal with that reality, including the allies.

I actually think President Trump, from what I know of the people around him, and from what he’s also said privately to a range of others, values highly the alliance with Australia.

And that’s going to continue into the future.

We also, I think, have seen reaffirmations of that both from members of the Administration today, and I think a great American, Senator John McCain, who we all admire in Australia, has underlined that point again.

I think it’s important to put this sort of basis for this disagreement, which is about a complex area of refugees and immigration policy in Australia, and an arrangement made with the previous Administration, into its context.

Let’s resolve it in the detail, and I think it is capable of being resolved, and if it’s not, those refugees should be accommodated back in Australia, as they should have been two or three years ago.

HALA GORANI: Do you think that his ban on refugees and immigrants even with lawful visas in many cases from those seven countries including Iraq and Syria, do you agree with that, do you think it’s a good plan?

KEVIN RUDD: Well I’m not an American citizen, but I am President of an American think tank and we take an independent view of these things.

I’m President of the Asia Policy Institute in New York.

And when I look at it, the questions which come to my mind about this piece of policy, and I’ve said so publicly before, is:

A: what will be the implications in terms of ISIS recruitment strategies and their effectiveness right around the world?; and

B: what will be the effect on further radicalization within the United States?

These are the valid grounds for policy debate now within the United States.

And based on our experience in Australia, when we felt some of these challenges and pressures in the past, what we have done within Australia is try to keep the lid on the whole question of creating community dissent with our Muslim minority in Australia as well.

We need to tread very carefully on these questions, and not create a bigger problem than that we’re seeking to solve.

HALA GORANI: Alright, well I’m not sure if you support it or not as a result of that answer, I’ll be honest.

But thank you for joining us Kevin Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister in Abu Dhabi.

We appreciate it.

KEVIN RUDD: Happy to be with you, and I’m taking it as it is.

HALA GORANI: Alright, thank you.

Brad NewmanU.S.-Australia relationship strong enough to weather Turnbull-Trump ‘Snafu’