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How Some Very Senior American Politicans Went Into Damage Control Over The Phone Call

But it won't damage Australia's relationship with the U.S. over the long term.

03/02/2017 12:36 PM AEDT | Updated 03/02/2017 3:36 PM AEDT
Stefan Postles via Getty Images
Turnbull isn't giving much on his phone call to Trump, the details of which were leaked in the Washington Post.

Australia's relationship with the United States is both big enough and old enough to weather the "snafu" from a phone call about refugee policy between U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says he believes the nearly 70-year alliance will easily survive the disagreement, sparked by Trump blasting a plan for the U.S. to take 1250 refugees being held by Australia as "the worst deal ever".

"I think this snafu will blow over and we'll get back to the fundamentals of the relationship. On that, both sides of politics in the U.S. and in Australia remain deeply committed," Rudd told CNN on Thursday.

"The bottom line is neither of us, you or I, were party to the actual conversation itself, so we'll let the two principals place their accounts of the call on the record."

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"Worst deal ever!" Donald Trump reportedly lashed Malcolm Turnbull over a proposed refugee deal during a phone call

While Australia's security and strategic architecture remains sound, the phone call indicates future dealings with the Trump administration are likely to be difficult.

Trump on Thursday night told a Washington function "I have a lot of respect for Australia, I love Australia as a country -- but we have a problem," while Australia's Ambassador in Washington, Joe Hockey, met Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to clear up the mess.

Peter Barnes / Reuters
It was a snafu and the U.S./Australia relationship will endure, Kevin Rudd says.

The deal to take the refugees became a flashpoint in otherwise rock solid diplomatic relations, with Trump reportedly accusing the Turnbull of wanting to export the "next Boston bombers" to the United States.

On Thursday Republican senator John McCain phoned Hockey to express his "unwavering support" for the U.S.-Australian relationship.

McCain said Trump's treatment of Turnbull as "unnecessary and frankly harmful".

"Australia, they fought alongside us in wars including losing over 500 brave Australians in the Vietnam War, which some of us remember," McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan also tried to shore up the alliance, telling reporters he didn't think Australia should be worried about its relationship with the president or the country.

Mark Makela / Reuters
U.S. Republican Senator John McCain is quickly becoming a leading voice of opposition to Trump, saying the president's treatment of Turnbull was

"I know your country well. I met with your leaders continuously over the last number of years. So, no, Australia is an important and essential ally. It's gonna continue to be," he told the Washington Post.

But long-term watchers of the ANZUS alliance warn the partners have entered their most difficult period in decades.

Peter Jennings from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) told The ABC the ANZUS alliance remains viable, however the political environment remained completely unpredictable. Relations will need to to be managed through the next four years of Trump's presidency, he said.

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There are reports the phone call between Trump and Turnbull, scheduled for an hour, only lasted 25 minutes

If Trump accepts the deal there will likely have to be quid pro quo from Turnbull, perhaps in the form of an increased military engagement in the Middle East, Jennings said.

"I think the problem for Mr Turnbull is going to become even more difficult, because you can't really deploy elements of the Australian Defence Force on the basis of 'well, I cut a deal with a President over some refugees," he said.

"The challenge we have now got, because of this conversation, people will be expecting there is something Australia will do in return because of Trump's very reluctant agreement to allow the people into the U.S."

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