US President Donald Trump on Saturday invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to Washington in a “friendly” call, in which the leaders discussed the “threat” of North Korea, the White House said.
“It was a very friendly conversation, in which the two leaders discussed the concerns of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regarding regional security, including the threat posed by North Korea,” the statement said.
The leaders 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.”
Duterte has been criticized for his brutal policies on drug users and has made off-color comments about Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, including calling him a “son of a bitch.”
Critics have warned of extrajudicial killings and other widespread human rights abuses in the crackdown, with Amnesty International saying in February that Duterte may be guilty of crimes against humanity.
A recent Reuters report pointed at extensive fabrication of evidence to justify some of the extrajudicial killings, and said almost 9,000 people had been killed in the crackdown.
Israel, which sells weapons to the Philippines, was reported last month to be planning a visit by Duterte.
There has been concern about Duterte’s efforts to loosen the Philippines’ longstanding alliance with the US as he looks to court China, whose push to control most of the disputed South China Sea has alarmed neighbors.
Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella confirmed Trump’s invitation, although he gave no indication of when the visit would take place.
Philippine police have reported killing 2,724 people as part of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, although authorities insist the shootings have been in self defense.
Many thousands of others have been killed by shadowy vigilantes, according to rights groups.
A Philippine lawyer last week filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court accusing Duterte of mass murder, alleging his war on drugs had led to about 8,000 deaths.
Duterte’s pledge to stop the country turning into a narco-state has proved wildly popular with millions of Filipinos looking for a quick solution to crime and corruption.
Over the weekend some Southeast Asian leaders attending a regional summit in Manila also expressed support for the drug war, including Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo.