MANILA, Philippines – US President Donald Trump invited President Duterte to the White House during a “friendly” conversation that also tackled regional security issues including the threat posed by North Korea, officials said yesterday.
Trump called Duterte Saturday night after the closing ceremonies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit hosted by the Philippines.
A press statement from the White House said Trump is “visiting the Philippines in November to take part in the East Asian Summit and the US-ASEAN Summit.”
A few hours before the phone call, Duterte said ASEAN was extremely worried about tensions between the US and North Korea, pointing out that one misstep would be a “catastrophe” and Asia would be the first victim of a nuclear war.
He implored the US to show restraint toward North Korea, saying the two nations were “playing with their dangerous toys.”
Duterte told reporters earlier that he would urge Trump to ensure that no war would break out over North Korea’s threat as Asia would suffer “immensely” from its fallout.
“It was a very friendly conversation, in which the two leaders discussed the concerns of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regarding regional security, including the threat posed by North Korea,” a White House statement read.
“President Trump also invited President Duterte to the White House to discuss the importance of the US-Philippines alliance, which is now heading in a very positive direction.”
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella confirmed the invitation in a separate statement, adding that the two leaders also touched on the upcoming East Asia Summit in November “as well as matters of regional geo-political concerns, especially on the situation in North Korea,” which has been showing off its missile and nuclear capabilities, worrying neighbors who fear that the totalitarian state’s activities could lead to a catastrophe.
“But details, understandably, are not forthcoming,” Abella said.
Abella described the conversation between Duterte and Trump as “warm.” The White House said Trump had “enjoyed” the conversation with Duterte and was looking forward to his visit to the Philippines in November.
The US has had an uneasy relationship with the Philippines – its traditional ally – since Duterte assumed office last year. The tough-talking Duterte had chided former US president Barack Obama for supposedly interfering with his bloody campaign against illegal drugs and for imposing his views on a sovereign country.
He also claimed that the US has no moral ascendancy to lecture him on human rights because of its supposed transgressions in the Middle East and the alleged discrimination against African-Americans and Muslims.
When Trump assumed the presidency in January, Duterte said he was confident that he would get along well with the American leader, who has been likened to him because of their penchant for frank and provocative statements.
Last Saturday’s phone call was the second conversation between the two leaders. Duterte called Trump in December to congratulate him for winning the US presidency.
Abella said Trump had expressed commitment to the alliance between the Philippines and the US and has expressed interest “in developing a warm, working relationship with President Duterte.”
The White House said the Philippines’ crackdown on illegal drugs, which has earned Duterte both critics and admirers here and abroad, was also mentioned during the two leaders’ phone conversation.
“They (Duterte and Trump) also discussed the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs, a scourge that affects many countries throughout the world,” the White House said.
Duterte previously claimed that Trump had expressed support for his war on narcotics, which has reportedly left about 7,000 suspected drug offenders dead.
“Thank you but if you are in Washington, give me a call and we’ll have coffee. Or, if you are in New York. And besides, you are doing it (anti-drug campaign) right,” Duterte quoted Trump as saying in a speech in Pasay City last April 19.
– with Joseph Lariosa, Pia Lee-Brago