The Obama administration lobbied Australia to change its asylum seeker policy, actively disagreeing with the Australia’s off-shore detention and “Stop the Boats” mentality.
Former deputy secretary of state Heather Higginbottom has given an insight into how the secretive refugee-swap deal between the two allies came about, while revealing the United States, under former president Barack Obama, wanted to “bring relief” to asylum seekers held on Nauru and Manus Island.
The deal was the subject of a tense first phone call between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with Mr Trump labelling it “stupid”, “rotten”, “horrible” and “disgusting”.
But Ms Higginbottom, writing for Time magazine, said it was struck with humanitarian solutions in mind, by an administration uncomfortable with Australia’s stance.
“While the last administration strongly pressed the Australian government to change its policy toward asylum seekers, we also sought to immediately relieve the suffering of these refugees and agreed to resettle up to 1200 after they went through the US government’s rigorous refugee screening processes,” Ms Higginbottom, who now serves as the chief operating officer of CARE, wrote.
“We also made clear that while we disagreed with their policy of detention, Australia is a critical ally, particularly in the Pacific, and a leader in humanitarian assistance and refugee resettlement globally.
“I only know all this because of my former role as deputy secretary of state, not because of anything I am reading in the newspapers or watching on television, and that’s part of the problem. If we don’t even discuss the underlying facts of international debates and disagreements, how are we ever going to build anything resembling consensus to address…