Australia’s prime minister said Wednesday that he and U.S. President Donald Trump will engage as two seasoned businessmen-turned-politicians when they meet for the first time, focusing on North Korea, security and economic issues.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was speaking hours before he departed Sydney for New York, where he will meet Trump on Thursday, more than three months after the two had a heated telephone conversation over a refugee deal.
“We’ll talk about the wide range of security and economic issues, but top of the list obviously at the moment is North Korea,” Turnbull told Seven Network television.
Turnbull described media reports of his Jan. 28 telephone conversation with Trump, in which the president reluctantly agreed to honor an agreement with President Barack Obama’s administration to take up to 1,250 refugees off Australia’s hands, as “very exaggerated.” He has previously denied media reports that Trump hung up on him, but has provided few details of the conversation.
“The president and I had a frank, forthright and courteous call. We are both people with a long background in business and I think — I’ve got no doubt — that we’ll get on fine,” Turnbull told Sydney Radio WSFM.
Turnbull, Australia’s wealthiest lawmaker and a former Goldman Sachs partner with an estimated fortune exceeding $150 million, will highlight the U.S.-Australian defense alliance by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Trump at a ceremony marking the 75 anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.
U.S. and Australian warships and fighter planes fought the Japanese from May 4-8, 1942, with the Japanese navy being forced back for the first time in World War II.
Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based foreign policy think tank, will attend the ceremony aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Intrepid. Fullilove said it was important that Turnbull “establish a working, personal relationship with Mr. Trump.”
“The first phone call was really disastrous, in a way,” Fullilove told Australian Broadcasting Corp. from New York.
Turnbull will need to strike a balance because Trump is unpopular in Australia, Fullilove said. The Lowy Institute commissioned an opinion poll last year that found 77 percent of Australian respondents wanted Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton to become president, and only 11 percent preferred Trump.
The phone survey of 1,002 Australian adults was conducted on June 1-9 and had a 3.1 percent margin of error.
“The Australian public want to know the Australian prime minister has the ear of the president,” Fullilove said. “You pull off a successful meeting, but at the same time, you’re not trying to pretend that you’re chummier than you really are.”
Under the Obama-era refugee resettlement agreement, the U.S. will take up to 1,250 refugees — mostly Muslims from Africa, the Middle East and Asia — that Australia houses in immigration camps on the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Trump, who campaigned on tough-on-immigration policies, was enraged by the agreement, prompting a tense phone call with Turnbull and an angry tweet in which the president dubbed the deal “dumb.”
Turnbull told the president: “I’m a businessman, you’re a businessman. A deal is a deal,” Australian officials said at the time.