TRAN­SCRIPTS

de­tail testy calls with two al­lies.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - PETER BAKER

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump en­gaged in con­tentious tele­phone calls with the lead­ers of Mex­ico and Aus­tralia in his early days in of­fice, press­ing them to make con­ces­sions to sat­isfy his own do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal needs.

Tran­scripts of his calls with Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto of Mex­ico and Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull of Aus­tralia con­firm pre­vi­ous news re­ports of ten­sion dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tions in Jan­uary, just a week af­ter Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, and show a new pres­i­dent ea­ger to ful­fill cam­paign prom­ises while de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships with for­eign coun­ter­parts.

The tran­scripts, as­sem­bled from the notes of aides lis­ten­ing to the calls, were ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Post, which posted them on­line Thurs­day morn­ing. The White House did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

With Pena Ni­eto, Trump re­peat­edly threat­ened to im­pose a stiff bor­der tax to keep out Mex­i­can prod­ucts and com­plained about “pretty tough hom­bres” who were bring­ing so many drugs over the bor­der and that they had even made New Hamp­shire “a drug-in­fested den.”

The big­gest point of con­tention came as the pres­i­dent in­sisted that the Mex­i­can pres­i­dent stop say­ing pub­licly that he would not pay for the wall that Trump had promised to build along the bor­der be­tween the two coun­tries.

“If you are go­ing to say that Mex­ico is not go­ing to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys any­more, be­cause I can­not live with that,” Trump said.

In the call with Turn­bull, the pres­i­dent com­plained about what he called “a dis­gust­ing deal” that Aus­tralia had sealed with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in which the United States agreed to con­sider ac­cept­ing up to 1,250 eco­nomic refugees. Trump com­plained that he would look “so fool­ish” do­ing so af­ter bar­ring refugees from the rest of the world.

“I have had it,” Trump snapped to­ward the end of the call. “I have been mak­ing these calls all day, and this is the most un­pleas­ant call all day. [Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir] Putin was a pleas­ant call. This is ridicu­lous.”

Tran­scripts of a pres­i­dent’s con­ver­sa­tions with for­eign lead­ers are rarely made pub­lic, and the dis­clo­sure of these come af­ter Trump has slammed govern­ment staff mem­bers over unau­tho­rized leaks. The Post did not say how it ob­tained the tran­scripts.

Fresh from his in­au­gu­ra­tion, Trump had his cam­paign vic­tory on his mind, boast­ing to Pena Ni­eto that “no one got peo­ple in the ral­lies as big as I did” and to Turn­bull that “they said I had no way to get to 270” votes in the Elec­toral Col­lege “and I got 306.”

He but­tered up Pena Ni­eto, telling the in­ter­preter in their call that “he speaks bet­ter English than me,” sug­gest­ing that the Mex­i­can pres­i­dent would be so pop­u­lar that the Mex­i­can peo­ple will amend their con­sti­tu­tion to al­low him to run again and declar­ing that “it is you and I against the world, En­rique, do not for­get.”

But there was an edge to both con­ver­sa­tions as he sought to get his cam­paign plat­form to fruition. The talk with Pena Ni­eto on Jan. 27 came af­ter the Mex­i­can leader can­celed a meet­ing with Trump be­cause of their dis­pute over who would pay for the pro­posed bor­der wall. The two never re­solved that in the call, with both men clearly wor­ried about the po­lit­i­cal ef­fect in their own coun­tries.

“We find this com­pletely un­ac­cept­able for Mex­i­cans to pay for the wall that you are think­ing of build­ing,” Pena Ni­eto told Trump, ex­plain­ing how pre­car­i­ous his po­si­tion was at home. “I would also like to make you un­der­stand, Pres­i­dent Trump, the lack of mar­gin I have as pres­i­dent of Mex­ico to ac­cept this sit­u­a­tion.”

Trump too was con­scious of his own po­si­tion.

“On the wall, you and I both have po­lit­i­cal prob­lem. My peo­ple stand up and say, ‘Mex­ico will pay for the wall,’ and your peo­ple prob­a­bly say some­thing in a sim­i­lar but slightly dif­fer­ent lan­guage. But the fact is we are both in a lit­tle bit of a po­lit­i­cal bind, be­cause I have to have Mex­ico pay for the wall. I have to. I have been talk­ing about it for a two-year pe­riod.”

Trump sug­gested pa­per­ing over the dis­pute in pub­lic com­ments: “We should both say, ‘We will work it out.’ It will work out in the for­mula some­how. As op­posed to you say­ing, ‘We will not pay’ and me say­ing, ‘We will not pay.’”

Pena Ni­eto told Trump that he had put him in a bad po­si­tion. “You have a very big mark on our back, Mr. Pres­i­dent, re­gard­ing who pays for the wall,” he said. “This is what I sug­gest, Mr. Pres­i­dent: Let us stop talk­ing about the wall.”

The next day, Jan. 28, Trump said to Turn­bull that he had been told that he had to ac­cept refugees held by Aus­tralia on the is­lands of Nauru or Manus for more than three years.

“Some­body told me yes­ter­day that close to 2,000 peo­ple are com­ing who are re­ally trou­ble­some,” he said to Turn­bull. “And I am say­ing, boy that will make us look aw­fully bad. Here I am call­ing for a ban where I am not let­ting any­body in and we take 2,000 peo­ple.”

But Turn­bull im­plored the pres­i­dent to abide by the agree­ment. “I am ask­ing you as a very good friend. This is a big deal. It is re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant to us that we main­tain it.”

“Mal­colm, why is this so im­por­tant?” Trump said. “I do not un­der­stand. This is go­ing to kill me. I am the world’s great­est per­son that does not want to let peo­ple into the coun­try.”

Turn­bull said, “Mr. Pres­i­dent, I think this will make you look like a man who stands by the com­mit­ments of the United States.”

But Trump was not buy­ing it.

“OK, this shows me to be a dope,” he said. “I am not like this but if I have to do it, I will do it, but I do not like this at all.”

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