Seeking Common Ground
Did the delay in holding the meeting make Mr. Turnbull nervous? It’s hard to tell from the video, but the wait was widely seen in Australia as a snub — and Mr. Turnbull seemed eager to overcome any awkwardness caused by it.
After Mr. Trump repeatedly remarked that it had been “a big day” because of the House vote, the Australian prime minister chimed in: “I know the feeling. We have challenges with our Parliament, too.”
He went on to explain the Australian legislative process in more detail than Mr. Trump may have needed.
“He was very keen to find common ground and very keen to find personal chemistry with the president,” said Stephen Loosley, chairman of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank in Canberra. “Malcolm was laying it on with a trowel, to use the classic Australian saying for when you’re being generous with your praise of someone.”
Mr. Loosley said it made sense for Mr. Turnbull to compliment Mr. Trump on a win on Capitol Hill, but Tony Clark, a former Washington correspondent for the Australian Financial Review, disagreed, calling it “a bit schoolboyish.”
“Congratulating Trump on the passage of the health care legislation through the House wouldn’t have sat well with a lot of Australians,” he said.
“It’s certainly a long way away from the universal health care that we have in Australia,” he added. “From an Australian perspective, health care is virtually sacred.”
The Infamous Phone Call
One major aim for Mr. Turnbull and Mr. Trump was to show the world that they had put behind them the contentious phone call from early in Mr. Trump’s term, in which Mr. Trump criticized a deal to bring refugees to the United States from Australia.
Both leaders, but especially Mr. Trump, emphasized that the original interaction went better than had been described, and that the Australia-United States alliance was now as strong as ever.
Attendees at the dinner that followed the short interaction between Mr. Turnbull and Mr. Trump said the two leaders seemed more comfortable as the night wore on.
“All I can tell you is that in the room, President Trump made a big effort,” said Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, a foreign policy think tank in Sydney. “He referred very generously to Malcolm Turnbull in his speech. He was applauding him. I don’t think anyone at the dinner would say there was a lack of warmth or consideration.”
The full video of the first meeting could in fact be interpreted as evidence of a leader learning from a previous visitor. When Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, met Mr. Trump in the White House, Mr. Trump did not respond to reporters calling for him to give her a handshake. (He later said he didn’t hear the request.)
In his case, Mr. Turnbull appeared to extend his hand and quickly withdraw it when Mr. Trump failed to respond immediately.
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