Since his election to the presidency, Donald Trump has spoken on the phone to a number of world leaders. And in at least some of these calls, according to some accounts, the American leader lived up to his reputation for straight-talking and bombastic rhetoric.
Details of President Trump's call Saturday with the leader of Australia, a key ally of the United States, provoked widespread surprise when they were reported by The Washington Post's Greg Miller and Philip Rucker on Thursday.
Senior U.S. officials have said that during the call, the president blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee deal that was reached under the Obama administration. “This is the worst deal ever,” Trump told Turnbull as the Australian leader attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from two Australian-funded detention centers on Pacific islands.
According to those accounts, Trump accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.” The president also bragged about the size of his electoral college win (though that win was relatively small compared with previous elections).
Trump appeared dismissive of the Australian leader in the account, telling him that “this was the worst call by far” and abruptly ending the scheduled hour-long call after just 25 minutes.
Although this depiction of the call is at odds with the polite account shared by the White House, administration officials have acknowledged the call was hostile and tense. ABC News Australia spoke to sources in Canberra who said that The Post's account of the call was “substantially accurate.” Turnbull himself also alluded to a disagreement in a radio interview after the story broke, describing the discussion during the call as “frank and forthright.”
A. Odysseus Patrick contributed reporting.
Unlike other world leaders, British Prime Minister Theresa May met Trump at the White House. But she wasn’t the first British politician to meet him since the election. Nigel Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, met with him at Trump Tower shortly after the November election, which was viewed by some as a snub to the prime minister. (Farage had previously appeared with Trump on the campaign trail.)
May did speak with Trump by phone Nov. 10. During the call — according to the Times of London — May’s team was astonished by the informal and casual language used by Trump. According to the British newspaper, Trump told the British leader: “If you travel to the U.S., you should let me know.”
Downing Street later refused to deny that account.
By Karla Adam in London
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken to Trump three times since the election. The first call was a congratulatory call the day after the election, the second a call Trudeau made just after the inauguration and the final one this week when the president called to express his condolences following Sunday’s mosque shooting in Quebec City.
The official versions of the calls have noted the usual niceties exchanged between world leaders and mutual invitations for visits. But in a long interview Trudeau gave in December to a Montreal radio station, he hinted that the atmosphere on the Trump call may not have been as warm as expected.
Asked by radio host Terry Di Monte whose idea it was to call Trump after he won the election, the prime minister responded, “It’s just done. There was a brief hesitation. Should we do it? Of course we should. Absolutely.” He then described the conversation as “friendly-ish.”
“We had a very civil conversation. It was a friendly-ish conversation. He’s a businessman. He gets along well with people. He knows how to be personable.”
Trudeau said that he and Trump then bantered about being “knocked about by the media” with Trudeau noting that for years before his 2015 election victory, he had been slammed by critics as not being ready to be prime minister. “There was a little common ground in that with Trump.”
By Alan Freeman in Ottawa
As a candidate, Trump spent a lot of time bashing China. But according to both the Chinese and U.S. sides, the first call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump was basically perfect. Official accounts suggest it was a tightly scripted exchange of diplomatic platitudes — Xi’s style, sure, but not standard operating procedure for Trump.
Xinhua, China's party-controlled newswire, said Xi congratulated Trump and stressed cooperation. “I attach great importance to China-U.S. relations and am ready to work with the U.S. side to carry forward bilateral ties and to better benefit the two peoples and the rest of the world,” said Xi, according to Xinhua.
The newswire also published a summary of Trump’s remarks. “For his part, Trump thanked Xi for the congratulations and said that he agreed with Xi on his views about U.S.-China relations,” Xinhua wrote.
“China is a great and important country with eye-catching development prospects,” said Trump, according to Xinhua. “The United States and China can achieve win-win results featuring mutual benefits.”
Even accounting for the vagaries of translation, “eye-catching development prospects” and “win-win results featuring mutual benefits” sounds much more like party-speak than the U.S. president. Trump’s camp did not confirm or deny the remarks, but noted the leaders “established a clear sense of mutual respect for one another” on the call.
By Emily Rauhala in Beijing
The European Union
In the round of congratulatory calls that Trump took from America’s staunchest allies in Europe after his November victory, the approach was low on substance and high on friendliness, a senior European official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private phone calls.
“Amazing, spectacular, terrific”: all words that Trump used to pepper his conversations, the official said, as Trump pledged friendship with leaders no matter their stripe. If Trump had an investment in a country, or had been there on vacation, he brought it up. Otherwise, the calls lacked specifics, the official said.
And he told all the leaders to “drop by when you’re in Washington,” the official said. “His slip was very much showing diplomatically on that one, because that’s not how it’s done.”
But one call between the Trump transition team and E.U. officials set off alarm bells in Brussels, said Anthony Gardner, who was President Barack Obama’s final ambassador to the European Union. That was a brief call in which the only question asked was which country would be next to leave the E.U. after Britain.
E.U. officials — who are dedicated to preserving the political and economic union — took that as a warning sign that Trump may have them in his crosshairs. They are still struggling to understand why, since the European Union was forged in partnership with the United States after World War II and for years has been seen on a bipartisan basis in Washington to advance U.S. foreign policy interests.
Trump “is just reflecting the view of a very narrow group of people, who of course would be telling him that the E.U. is a shambles, is falling apart,” Gardner said.
By Michael Birnbaum in Brussels
Trump spoke with French President François Hollande on Jan. 28.
According to an official French account of the call, Hollande had warned the U.S. president against taking an isolationist approach. “In an unstable and uncertain world, turning inward would be a dead-end,” Hollande said to Trump, according to a statement from the president's office later reported by Reuters.
Another account of the call reported by Politico seems to confirm that conversation happened, though it also suggested that the discussion may have been more contentious than it sounded. A U.S. official told the publication that Trump had used the call to obsess over China and whether international bodies such as NATO were taking America's money, only briefly touching on issues like the Islamic State which both France and the United States are involved in.
“It was a difficult conversation, because he talks like he’s speaking publicly,” the official told Politico. “It's not the usual way heads of state speak to each other.
In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — who was the first foreign leader to visit Trump after the election and will meet with him again for a summit and golf outing next week — has been falling over himself to get in Trump's good graces.
Their call last Saturday was full of mutual admiration. The president flattered his Japanese counterpart, an economic nationalist who, years before Trump coined his slogan, had vowed to “make Japan a beautiful country again.”
“My daughter Ivanka thinks very highly of you, and she rarely praises anyone,” Trump told Abe, according to several reports. Ivanka Trump had also told her father to follow the “very clever” Japanese prime minister, according to the Japanese prime minister's office.
When Abe mentioned the need to shore up their security alliance, Trump reportedly responded: “I’m dispatching Mad Dog to Japan quickly. This is very meaningful. I trust him, so please talk to him about anything.” The president was referring to his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, who has since visited Tokyo.
Trump also thanked Abe for the golf driver he'd given the election victor in November. In fact, that's how Saturday's golf date came about, according to Jiji Press. Abe suggested: “Let’s play golf together someday.” Trump responded. The pair are now due to play at Trump's resort in Palm Beach on Feb. 11.
By Anna Fifield in Tokyo
Trump spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Jan. 24. According to the official accounts of that call, the two leaders discussed the economy, defense, regional security and terrorism. The White House said that Trump called India a “true friend and partner” and invited Modi to Washington. Modi later returned the invitation in a tweet about their “warm conversation.”
Despite the warm accounts, Indian officials have been appalled by reports of a seemingly fawning call Trump had with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in November.
Annie Gowen in Delhi contributed to this report.
Officials told The Washington Post that Trump's call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Jan. 27 was marked by hostility. The two men have been at loggerheads over Trump’s vow to force Mexico to pay for construction of a border wall between the countries. Trump's repeated insistence that Mexico would pay for that wall prompted Peña Nieto to cancel a planned meeting with Trump.
Some accounts suggested an extremely tense conversation. However, Mexican officials have pushed back on that version of events.
Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said in an interview with foreign reporters that “there are significant differences in the positions” of the United States and Mexico. “Some of those differences were reiterated by both sides. But the conversation was constructive. And the most important thing was the agreement to keep working, to keep having dialogue, to reach good agreements.”
Joshua Partlow in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Shortly after the election, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had a phone conversation with Trump that was magnanimous, relaxed and positively chummy.
Trump praised Pakistan as a “fantastic country,” called Sharif a “terrific guy” and offered to help solve his government’s long-standing dispute with India over the border region of Kashmir. Sharif’s office was so thrilled that it hurriedly released a readout that read like a transcript of the chat.
“That call really broke the ice. There was a lot of bonhomie,” noted one associate of Sharif. But now that Trump is in power, his policy initiatives and comments have raised worrisome questions in Pakistan about his intentions toward the broader Muslim world.
The Pakistani leader has not heard directly from Trump since he entered the Oval Office, but the messages coming from the new administration have struck a frostier tone, harking back to critical comments Trump made in years past.
This week, after Trump announced a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Pakistan could be added to the list, along with other countries that have “problems with terrorism.”
The idea offended many in Pakistan, which sends large numbers of people to the United States for education, work and medical care. It also worried officials trying to balance their tenuous friendship with Washington against other concerns, especially fears of Indian aggression and the domestic appeal of Islamist groups.
Now, as they hear of Trump browbeating other foreign leaders long-distance, Pakistani officials are in no hurry to pick up the phone — and they are bracing for a call that may be anything but chummy.
By Pamela Constable in Islamabad