Trump defends Turnbull hang-up: 'I need to make tough calls'

  • 03/02/2017

US President Donald Trump says he loves Australia and will "respect" the asylum-seeker deal for refugees held on Manus Island and Nauru.

But Mr Trump, before a meeting with US steelworkers at the White House on Thursday, blasted the deal negotiated by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last year with former US president Barack Obama.

"I have a lot of respect for Australia," Mr Trump said.

"I love Australia as a country but I have a problem where for whatever reason President Obama said they were going to take probably well over 1000 illegal immigrants who were in prisons.

"... 1250, could be 2000, could be more than that and I said 'Why? Why are we doing this?'."

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said refugees will only be allowed in the US if they pass extreme vetting.

Earlier Mr Trump continued his public stoush with Mr Turnbull by declaring he needs to make "tough phone calls" because nations are taking advantage of America.

At a speech in Washington DC on Thursday (local time), Mr Trump said the world was in trouble but he was "going to straighten it out".

"When you hear about the tough phone calls I'm having, don't worry about it," Mr Trump told the audience.

"Just don't worry about it. They're tough. We have to be tough.

"It's time we have to be a little tough folks.

"We are taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually.

"It's not going to happen anymore."

The Washington Post revealed on Wednesday a weekend call between Mr Trump and Mr Turnbull had ended abruptly.

The president in a tweet called an asylum seeker deal between Australia and former US President Barack Obama "dumb".

AAP