detail testy calls with two allies.
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.”