Trump's transnational transcripts expose tactics

7:36 am on 4 August 2017

Transcripts of US President Donald Trump's phone calls to his Mexican and Australian counterparts after taking office reveal he pressured them on immigration issues.

US President Donald Trump makes a phone call.

US President Donald Trump makes a phone call. Photo: AFP

The Washington Post published texts on Thursday of Mr Trump's sometimes fraught calls with Mexico's Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull just days after taking office on 20 January.

The substance of the calls has previously been reported but the lengthy transcripts reveal Mr Trump, whose first elected office is the presidency, trying to use a mixture of bluster, tough talk and charm as he fully entered the world of diplomacy.

He pressured the Mexican president to stop voicing opposition in public to his plan to have Mexico pay for a border wall, and berated the Australian prime minister over a deal to take refugees that his own predecessor agreed with the country.

'I have to have Mexico pay for the wall'

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speak to press after an hour of meetings ahead of Mr Trump's speech on immigration in Arizona.

Mr Trump and Mr Pena Nieto met in an impromptu visit Mr Trump made to Mexico during his presidential campaign. Photo: AFP

On 27 January, Mr Trump pressed Mr Pena Nieto to avoid saying in public that Mexico would not fund the planned border wall.

"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," Mr Trump said, according to the transcript.

"You cannot say that to the press," Mr Trump said.

The proposed wall, aimed at preventing illegal immigration to the United States, is a bone of contention between Mexico and Washington. Mr Pena Nieto has repeatedly rejected Mr Trump's promise that Mexico will end up paying billions of dollars for its construction.

The White House has said the US government would pay for the wall initially to get the project off the ground but that Mexico would eventually reimburse it for the work.

In their conversation, Mr Trump said both leaders were "in a little bit of a political bind" due to Mr Trump's campaign pledge to build the wall and have Mexico foot the bill.

"I have to have Mexico pay for the wall, I have to. I have been talking about it for a two-year period," Mr Trump said.

He suggested the two men avoid the issue of paying for the wall when asked.

"They are going to say, 'Who is going to pay for the wall, Mr President?' to both of us, and we should both say, 'We will work it out'," Mr Trump said.

"It will work out in the formula somehow. As opposed to you saying, 'We will not pay', and me saying, 'We will not pay'," the US president said.

Mr Pena Nieto said he understood Mr Trump's position and suggested seeking "a creative way to jump over this obstacle".

Toward the end of their conversation, Mr Pena Nieto expressed a wish for a constructive relationship with the US.

"Your words are so beautiful," Mr Trump said. "Those are beautiful words and I do not think I can speak that beautifully, okay," he said.

"I want you to be so popular that your people will call for a constitutional amendment in Mexico so that you can run again for another six years," he said. By law, Mexican presidents can only serve one six-year term.

Mr Pena Nieto earlier scrapped a plan to hold talks with Mr Trump in the US due to tensions over the wall and trade. The two men have since met, holding talks at a summit of the Group of 20 nations in Germany last month.

In comments likely to upset voters in New Hampshire - an important early voting state in the US presidential election primaries - Mr Trump described the state as "a drug-infested den."

"I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den," he said, complaining that drugs from Mexico are damaging the United States.

While Mr Trump won the Republican primary in the New England state, he narrowly lost the state to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the general election.

'I am the world's greatest person'

No caption

Mr Trump and Mr Turnbull before a meeting onboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York. Photo: AFP

In an acrimonious call the following day, on 28 January, Mr Trump argued with Mr Turnbull over refugees.

Speaking to his Australian counterpart, Mr Trump became irritated that the US was expected to honour an agreement made by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, to accept 1250 refugees held in Australian processing centres on remote Pacific islands.

Mr Trump said that would make him look bad given his campaign promises to reduce the number of refugees entering the United States, according to the transcript.

"This is going to kill me. I am the world's greatest person that does not want to let people into the country," Mr Trump said.

"I guarantee you they [refugees] are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people."

He told Mr Turnbull their conversation was the most difficult he had that day after having spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe among others.

"I have had it. I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day," Mr Trump said. "Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous."

- BBC / Reuters

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs