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U.S. President Donald Trump (L), seated at his desk with National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (2nd R) and senior advisor Steve Bannon (R), speaks by phone with Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst(reuters_tickers)
By Aaron Bunch and Harry Pearl
SYDNEY (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump has confirmed that his administration will honour a refugee resettlement deal with Australia, Treasurer Scott Morrison said on Monday.
Trump spoke by telephone with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday, officials in both countries said, one of a number of conversations the new U.S. president held with world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Morrison told Sydney radio station 2GB that the government had "been able to secure the continuance of this arrangement under President Trump".
Former U.S. President Barack Obama's administration had said the United States would take a substantial number of the 1,200 asylum seekers held in Australia's processing centres on remote Pacific islands in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, after Turnbull agreed to resettle refugees from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
U.S. Homeland Security officials have begun assessing the asylum seekers, although it was unclear when those found to be genuine refugees would be resettled.
Many of those in Australia's offshore camps have fled conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.
Confirmation the deal would proceed came less than 24 hours after Trump signed an executive order that put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travellers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq and Iran.
Trump's "extreme vetting" order had cast doubt on the future of the refugee resettlement deal.
Australia's hardline immigration policy is a contentious issue that has drawn international condemnation from the United Nations and other rights groups, but which remains popular at home and has bipartisan political support.
Once fringe, far-right political parties like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation have gained wider backing, which sometimes spills over into calls for a ban on Muslim immigration.
Up to 150 far-right protesters rallied in the Australian city of Sydney on Sunday, waving placards in support of Trump and demanding a ban on Muslim immigration in Australia.
Some carried banners saying "Aussies for Trump" and "ISIS refugees not welcome" amid a heavy police presence.
"I say this to Islamists: Australia will never be your country," John Bolton, a speaker at the rally, told Reuters.
Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, has been on heightened alert for attacks by home-grown Islamist radicals since 2014 and authorities say they have thwarted a number of plots.
(Reporting by Aaron Bunch and Harry Pearl in SYDNEY; Editing by Paul Tait)