Here’s one I didn’t see coming. One of the several calls which President Trump took from various foreign leaders this weekend was with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. By all accounts it went pretty well but there was one subject on the docket which clearly couldn’t be avoided under the current circumstances. There was a deal in place, left over from the Obama administration, under which the United States would be taking in a large number of refugees currently being held in camps on some islands off the Australian mainland. These are immigrants who Turnbull didn’t want settled in his own nation. I wrote about this story back in November and at the time expressed skepticism over it (to put it mildly). Most of the refugees in question are being held in two of the camps located on Naru and Manus Islands. Those facilities currently hold a combined total of more than 1,300 of them, the majority of whom are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka.
So what happened on the phone call? According to ABC News, Trump signaled that he might be sticking to the terms of the deal.
US President Donald Trump has confirmed his administration will honour a refugee resettlement deal Australia made with the Obama administration.
The deal had come into question after Mr Trump signed an executive order suspending his country’s refugee program…
But ABC understands Mr Trump confirmed he would honour the resettlement deal during a phone call to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday morning.
Turnbull was making the point that a section in Trump’s new executive order allows for the admittance of refugees covered under pre-existing international agreements. That much seems to be true, but some of these people are from countries on the list of seven nations currently banned (Iraq and Iran at a minimum, and possibly others). The ones from Pakistan and Afghanistan would also be in line for some “extreme vetting” under the circumstances.
How is the President going to square this? At least on paper it’s not a problem because he’s left himself some options, but one of our own allies doesn’t even want these refugees in his country. Given the stance that Trump has taken thus far it would certainly seem out of character to open the door unless there’s already been a significant amount of vetting done by the Australians, if not our own intelligence agencies.
Turnbull and Trump had a rather cool, but not openly hostile relationship during the campaign. The Australian PM mostly stayed on the sideline, saying that it wasn’t his place to be involved in the U.S. election, though he did refer to the Billy Bush incident as “loathsome.” By the same token, when one of his colleagues referred to Trump as “barking mad” he swatted him down, albeit politely. In fact, of all the foreign leaders who were checking in, Turnbull seemed to take the most reserved approach, leaving his options open to keep a good relationship with the United States no matter who won.
I’ll hold off on this Australian deal for the time being. Trump saying that he’ll honor the deal doesn’t really say anything about when he plans to honor it. But if he’s going to take as many as 1,300 refugees off Turnbull’s hands he’s probably going to have to demonstrate that they’ve been vetted five ways to Sunday.