US to honour Australia refugee deal that Donald Trump called 'dumb'

Lucy Pasha-Robinson
Mike Pence shook hands with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after announcing a US commitment to the refugee resettlement deal: REUTERS

The US has confirmed it will honour a refugee deal with Australia to resettle 1,250 asylum seekers that President Donald Trump previously described as “dumb.”

Vice President Mike Pence said the deal would be subject to vetting and that recognising it "doesn't mean that we admire the agreement".

"We will honour this agreement out of respect to this enormously important alliance," he told a joint news conference with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Under the deal, agreed with former President Barack Obama last year, the US would resettle refugees held in offshore processing camps on South Pacific islands in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

In return, Australia agreed to resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The White House has already said it would apply "extreme vetting" to those asylum seekers. However, refugee charities said they were concerned the measures would mean few asylum seekers would actually be resettled.

"What still isn't clear is how many people will have this opportunity, and that clarity must be provided," said Graham Thom, refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia.

Australia is one of Washington's staunchest allies and has sent troops to fight alongside the US military in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However the relationship was put in jeopardy when Mr Trump lambasted Mr Turnbull over the arrangement, labelling it a "dumb" deal.

Details of an acrimonious phone call between the pair soon after the real estate mogul took office made headlines around the world, with reports Mr Trump had called it the “worst call by far” that day.

Mr Turnbull acknowledged US reluctance, but said Mr Trump’s commitment “speaks volumes” and said the call ended courteously.

Additional reporting by Reuters.