In a late-night Wednesday tweet, Trump slammed an Australian-U.S. refugee agreement that was brokered by Barack Obama's administration last year, saying he would commit to study the "dumb deal."
In November, Obama agreed that the U.S. would resettle 1,250 refugees held at offshore prisons on the island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Migrants attempting to enter Australia are often stopped and sent to those detention centers, so Canberra has been involved in negotiating their future.
But the fate of that U.S. arrangement is now being publicly questioned in the wake of Trump's Twitter outburst, which followed a report that the president had berated Turnbull about the deal during a Jan. 28 discussion, and eventually "abruptly ended" the phone call. Following that interaction, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer had said Trump would honor the refugee deal, but the Wednesday tweet confused the arrangement.
To further muddy the issue, Turnbull told local media on Thursday that Trump had assured him that the deal would go ahead as planned.
A White House official told NBC News that chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen Bannon had a "productive" meeting with the Australian ambassador in Washington on Thursday. In that meeting, the two top advisors "conveyed the president's deep admiration for the Australian people," the official said.
Regardless of the differing accounts, experts expressed surprise at the level of public disagreement between the two close allies, and concerns over the potential fallout.