Turnbull Says He’s Disappointed Phone Call With Trump Was Leaked

  • ‘Always better when these conversations remain confidential’
  • White House says leaks damaging U.S. national security

Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull during the G20 meeting in Hamburg on July 7.

Photographer: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed disappointment over the leak of a full transcript of his terse phone call with President Donald Trump, even while saying ties with the U.S. remain strong.

The Washington Post on Thursday published a conversation held between Trump and Turnbull in January in which they argued over a deal to send asylum seekers detained by Australia to the U.S. A call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was also leaked.

“It’s always better when these conversations remain confidential,” Turnbull said on Friday when asked by reporters whether he was concerned about the leak. He described his relationship with Trump as “warm.”

“We’re both adults,” Turnbull said. “I stand up for Australian interests, he stands up for America’s interests.”

The leak shows the potential pitfalls that world leaders -- and particularly strong allies like Australia -- face when dealing with the U.S. president. Relations took a hit after initial reports of the conversation between Turnbull and Trump were broadcast earlier this year, hurting the perception of the U.S. president among the Australian public.

Australia has stood by the U.S. in every major conflict since World War I and is a base for American Marines and intelligence services. White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said the leaks prevent Trump from negotiating with foreign leaders and were “damaging to our national security.”

In the transcript, Trump called the asylum-seeker deal “stupid” and his call with Turnbull “unpleasant” and “ridiculous.” Turnbull repeatedly explained Australia’s policy, and urged Trump to stick with the deal.

The leak will make it difficult for leaders to thrash out contentious issues behind the scenes, said Brendon O’Connor, an associate professor at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre. He said world leaders must now assume that conversations with Trump will be made public.

“If you’re a foreign leader like Turnbull, you now need to be guarded in your conversations with the president because they will probably leak out to the press,” he said.

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