Mex­ico, Aus­tralia calls de­tailed

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Greg Miller

WASH­ING­TON» Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump made build­ing a wall along the south­ern U.S. bor­der and forc­ing Mex­ico to pay for it core pledges of his cam­paign.

But in his first White House call with Mex­ico’s pres­i­dent, Trump de­scribed his vow to charge Mex­ico as a grow­ing po­lit­i­cal prob­lem, pres­sur­ing the Mex­i­can leader to stop say­ing pub­licly that his gov­ern­ment would never pay.

“You can­not say that to the press,” Trump said re­peat­edly, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of the Jan. 27 call ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Post. Trump made clear that he re­al­ized the fund­ing would have to come from other sources but threat­ened to cut off con­tact if Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto con­tin­ued to make de­fi­ant state­ments.

The fund­ing “will work out in the for­mula some­how,” Trump said, adding later that “it will come out in the wash, and that is OK.” But “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.”

He de­scribed the wall as “the least im­por­tant thing we are talk­ing about, but po­lit­i­cally this might be the most im­por­tant.”

The heated ex­change came dur­ing back-to-back days of calls that Trump held with for­eign lead­ers a week af­ter tak­ing of­fice. The Post has ob­tained tran­scripts of Trump’s talks with Peña Ni­eto and Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull.

Pro­duced by White House staff, the doc­u­ments pro­vide an un­fil­tered glimpse of Trump’s ap­proach to the diplo­matic as­pect of his job, sub­ject­ing even a close neigh­bor and long-stand­ing ally to streams of threats and in­vec­tive as if aimed at U.S. ad­ver­saries.

The Jan. 28 call with Turn­bull be­came par­tic­u­larly ac­ri­mo­nious. “I have had it,” Trump erupted af­ter the two ar­gued about an agree­ment on refugees. “I have been mak­ing these calls all day, and this is the most un­pleas­ant call all day.”

Be­fore end­ing the call, Trump noted that at least one of his con­ver­sa­tions that day had gone far more smoothly. “Putin was a pleas­ant call,” Trump said, re­fer­ring to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. “This is ridicu­lous.”

The White House de­clined to com­ment. An of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with both con­ver­sa­tions, who re­fused to speak on the record be­cause the pres­i­dent’s calls have not been de­clas­si­fied, said, “The pres­i­dent is a tough ne­go­tia­tor who is al­ways look­ing to make the best pos­si­ble deals for the Amer­i­can peo­ple. The United States has many vi­tal in­ter­ests at stake with Mex­ico, in­clud­ing stop­ping the flow of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, end­ing drug car­tels’ reach into our com­mu­ni­ties, in­creas­ing bor­der se­cu­rity, rene­go­ti­at­ing NAFTA and re­duc­ing a mas­sive trade deficit. In ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion the pres­i­dent has with for­eign lead­ers, he is di­rect and force­ful in his de­ter­mi­na­tion to put Amer­ica and Amer­i­cans first.”

The of­fi­cial noted that Trump has since met the Aus­tralian and Mex­i­can lead­ers in per­son and had pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tions with them.

The tran­scripts were based on records kept by White House note­tak­ers who mon­i­tored Trump’s calls. Known as a “mem­o­ran­dum of con­ver­sa­tion,” such doc­u­ments are com­monly cir­cu­lated to White House staffers and se­nior pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

Both doc­u­ments ob­tained by The Post con­tain notes in­di­cat­ing they were re­viewed and clas­si­fied by re­tired Lt. Gen. Keith Kel­logg Jr., who serves as chief of staff on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Por­tions of Trump’s strained con­ver­sa­tions with Turn­bull and Peña Ni­eto were re­ported this year. But the tran­scripts trace the en­tire course of those calls from greet­ing to con­fronta­tion to — in the case of Turn­bull — abrupt con­clu­sion.

Both calls cen­tered on im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated is­sues with high po­lit­i­cal stakes for Trump, who built his cam­paign around vows to erect new bar­ri­ers — phys­i­cal and le­gal — to en­try to the United States.

But there was lit­tle dis­cus­sion of the sub­stance of those plans or their im­pli­ca­tions for U.S. re­la­tions with Aus­tralia and Mex­ico. In­stead, Trump’s over­rid­ing con­cern seemed to cen­ter on how any ap­proach would re­flect on him.

“This is go­ing to kill me,” he said to Turn­bull. “I am the world’s great­est per­son that does not want to let peo­ple into the coun­try. And now I am agree­ing to take 2,000 peo­ple.”

The agree­ment reached by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­tu­ally called for the United States to ad­mit 1,250 refugees, sub­ject to se­cu­rity screen­ing. A White House read­out of the Trump call, is­sued at the time, said only that the two lead­ers had “em­pha­sized the en­dur­ing strength and close­ness of the U.S.-Aus­tralia re­la­tion­ship.”

Trump spent much of his call with Peña Ni­eto seek­ing to en­list the Mex­i­can pres­i­dent in a deal to stop talk­ing about how the wall would be paid for.

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