US President Donald Trump last month congratulated his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, for his brutal approach to reducing the country’s drug problem, a transcript showed.
It was a marked contrast to the policy of the State Department, which in a March annual human rights report referred to “apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process” in the Philippines.
Trump praised Duterte — who on Tuesday declared martial law in the south of the country — for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem,” according to the transcript of the conversation, picked up by The Washington Post on Tuesday.
During the conversation, which emerged from a Philippine foreign affairs department transcript, Trump also revealed that two US nuclear submarines were stationed off the North Korean coast.
A senior official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the transcript — circulated as “confidential” — accurately reflected the conversation, which took place at Trump’s initiative on April 29.
Thousands of people have died in the Philippines in government-sanctioned extra-judicial killings, which have been widely condemned by human rights groups around the world.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump said, according to the transcript.
“Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
Duterte said the drugs were “the scourge” of his nation. Then, in an apparent reference to his predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama, Trump responded, “We had a previous president who did not understand that, but I understand that.”
After Duterte raised the issue of North Korea, which is stepping up efforts to to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States, Trump asked whether North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, was “stable or not stable.”
Duterte, noting that Kim was always pictured laughing during missile launches, said he was unstable.
“We can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that. We have a lot of firepower, more than he has, times 20 — but we don’t want to use it,” the US leader said, citing “two nuclear submarines” the Pentagon sent to the area last month.
But he also appeared reassured that North Korea’s recent missile tests had failed, saying that “all his rockets are crashing. That’s the good news.”
Days after the conversation with Duterte, Trump said publicly that he would be “honored” to meet with Kim.
“We have a lot of firepower over there,” Mr. Trump told him. “We have two submarines — the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines, not that we want to use them at all.”
Trump pressed Duterte to call Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he referred to as “a good guy,” to exert pressure on North Korea.
“I hope China solves the problem. They really have the means because a great degree of their stuff comes through China,” Trump said, adding: “But if China doesn’t do it, we will do it.”
Duterte agreed, saying that “at the end of the day, the last card, the ace, has to be with China.”
However, he also cautioned, starkly, that “the other option is a nuclear blast, which is not good for everybody.”
Trump concluded the call by saying, “I will love to have you in the Oval Office,” and, “Take care of yourself Rodrigo, God bless you.”
On May 1, several days after the phone call, Duterte said he wouldn’t necessarily have time in his schedule to meet Trump, inter alia, because he had committed to come to Israel, which sells arms to his country.
“I am tied up. I cannot make any definite promise. I am supposed to go to Russia, I am supposed to go to Israel,” he told reporters when asked about Trump’s invitation.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that no date had been set for a visit by Duterte.