Donald Trump and Australian prime minister set to patch up relations after 'worst call by far'

Jonathan Pearlman
Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull 'don't have to be best friends' - AP

Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, has flown to New York to hold his first face-to-face meeting with Donald Trump following a notorious phone conversation which the United States President cut short and described as “the worst call by far”.

As Mr Turnbull arrived in New York  ahead of the meeting on Thursday, Australia's foreign minister Julie Bishop conceded that the two leaders “don’t have to be best friends”.

“Of course they will be gracious towards each other,” she told ABC Radio.

Mr Turnbull and Mr Trump will attend a ceremony aboard a decommissioned World War II aircraft carrier to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, in which the US and Australia halted Japan’s advance across the South Pacific.

It will mark Mr Trump’s first return to New York since he moved to the White House in January – a homecoming that is expected to be greeted by large protests.

Analysts said the two leaders were expected to focus on North Korea’s missile tests and relations with China but will also seek to demonstrate that the US-Australia alliance has not been impaired by their infamous phone call.

US vice president Mike Pence shakes hands with Australia's prime minister Malcolm Turnbull  Credit: Jason Reed/Reuters

Australia has committed troops to each of the US’s major conflicts since World War II – and relations between leaders of the nations are typically cosy – but Mr Trump showed little regard for the traditionally warm ties when he first spoke to Mr Turnbull after his inauguration.

Furious at Mr Turnbull’s insistence that Washington stand by former President Barack Obama’s agreement to accept about 1,250 refugees held in Australia’s offshore detention centres, Mr Trump ended the conversation and later criticised the “dumb deal” in a tweet.

Michael Fullilove, an expert on US and Australian foreign policy at Sydney’s Lowy Institute, said Mr Turnbull would need to approach the meeting carefully because any interaction with Mr Trump “carries with it a great deal of risk”.

He said Mr Turnbull will want to use the meeting to try to influence Mr Trump’s  thinking on the US role in the world, including the need to remain committed to the Asia-Pacific region.

“It is important that he [Mr Turnbull] establish a working personal relationship with Mr Trump because obviously the first call was disastrous,” he told ABC Radio.

“It is a very early and high profile meeting for an Australian prime minister to have in the term of a US President… There is a danger in looking sycophantic – I think the British Prime Minister Theresa May found that.”

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