President Donald Trump invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House to discuss the relationship between their two countries following a conversation between the two leaders over the weekend.
Trump and Duterte had a “very friendly” conversation Saturday, according to the White House, where they discussed a range of topics including the Philippine’s regional security in light of the missile tests launched by North Korea and Duterte’s controversial war on drugs.
“They 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 in a statement.
Duterte’s fight against drugs in his country, which has resulted in the death of thousands of people, has drawn global criticism. Last month, Human Rights Watch estimated that police officers and “unidentified vigilantes” have killed over 7,000 suspected drug dealers and drug users in the country, often in impoverished and urban areas. “Duterte’s outspoken endorsement of the campaign implicates him and other senior officials in possible incitement to violence, instigation of murder, and in command responsibility for crimes against humanity,” Human Rights Watch wrote in its March report.
In December, Duterte threatened to round up corrupt officials and toss them from a helicopter, noting that he had precedent for these actions. “If you are corrupt, I will fetch you with a helicopter and I will throw you out on the way to Manila,” a Philippine newspaper, the Philippine Star, quoted him as saying. “I have done that before, why should I not do it again?”
Duterte, like Trump, was also a popular, albeit controversial, figure during his presidential campaign.
When discussing a rape of an Australian woman, Jacqueline Hamill, that took place earlier in his career in the city where he was mayor, he reportedly told a crowd, “I was mad she was raped, but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first,”according to Agence France-Presse. He subsequently refused to apologize for his remarks, saying, “This is how men talk.”
Trump extending a White House invitation to Duterte immediately drew criticism. “Admin attacks crime approach of NYC – America’s safest large city – then invites admitted killer, Philippine Pres Duterte, to White House,” former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who Trump fired last month, wrote on Twitter.
But the administration defended the decision to invite Duterte, with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus telling ABC News’ Jon Karl on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that this relationship was necessary to keep North Korea in check.
“It doesn’t mean that human rights don’t matter, but what it does mean is that the issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get,” Priebus said.
Trump’s overture comes after Duterte’s tense relationship with former President Barack Obama, who he called a “son of a whore” for claiming he would raise the issue of the war on drugs when the two leaders were planning on holding talks. The meeting between the two were subsequently cancelled.
A date for Duterte’s White House visit was not initially provided by White House. Trump is scheduled to visit the Philippines in November for the East Asia Summit and U.S. – ASEAN Summit.
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Write to Alana Abramson at Alana.Abramson@time.com