MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte said Saturday Donald Trump wished his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs would succeed during a telephone call, and he assured the U.S. president-elect the Philippines would maintain its ties with America – a departure from Duterte’s hostility toward the Obama administration.
Duterte called to congratulate Trump late Friday in their first talk that was described by an aide of the Philippine president as “very engaging, animated conversation” in which both leaders invited each other to visit his country.
In a video released by Duterte’s close aide, Bong Go, the Philippine leader is seen smiling while talking to Trump and saying: “We will maintain … and enhance the bilateral ties between our two countries.”
The other parts of the conversation were not aired in the video but in a statement released by his aides, Duterte said “he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem.”
“He understood the way we are handling it and I said that there’s nothing wrong in protecting a country,” Duterte said. “It was a bit very encouraging in the sense that I supposed that what he really wanted to say was that we would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country.”
“He said that … well, we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” Duterte said in his statement. It was unclear whether he or Trump remarked that the widely criticized crackdown was being carried out properly.
Duterte has lashed out at President Barack Obama, the State Department, EU and U.N. officials and human rights groups for raising concerns over the crackdown, which has left more than 4,000 suspected drug dealers and user dead, including many who are feared to have been gunned down in gangland-style killings.
While being antagonistic to the U.S., his country’s treaty ally, Duterte has reached out to China and Russia.
Obama canceled what could have been their first formal meeting in an Asian summit in Laos in September after Duterte unleashed an expletive-laden warning for the U.S. leader not to lecture him on human rights. In one speech, Duterte asked Obama to “go to hell.”
Duterte has repeatedly threatened to scale back the presence of visiting U.S. troops and joint combat exercises with the Americans, but he and his defense officials have walked back on most of those threats. In one speech while visiting Beijing, Duterte announced he would separate from the U.S. but later clarified that he meant he would chart a foreign policy that does not lean toward America.
During their talk, Trump invited Duterte to visit the White House next year and Duterte asked the incoming U.S. leader to attend an East Asian summit to be hosted by the Philippines next year, according to Go.
“He said that he will try his best to be here. He wants to attend the summit and that would be great for our country,” Duterte said.
Story: Jim Gomez