Trump invites Duterte to the White House

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – US President Donald Trump invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House, as the American leader reiterated his commitment to Philippine-US ties in a phone call on Saturday, April 29.

Trump, who marked his 100th day in office Saturday, called Duterte after the conclusion of the 30th ASEAN Summit, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Sunday, April 30.

"The ambit of the conversation between the two leaders includes the expression of commitment of US President Trump to the PH-US alliance and his interest in developing a warm, working relationship with President Duterte," Abella 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 White House, meanwhile, said in its own media release about the conversation.

"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 continued.

Trump also said "he looks forward" to the East Asia Summit and the US-ASEAN Summit in November, which will be held in the Philippines as part of the country's ASEAN chairmanship this year.

"President Trump also invited President Duterte to the White House to discuss the importance of the United States-Philippines alliance, which is now heading in a very positive direction," the White House said.

Defending the invitation

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, however, had to defend Trump's invitation after being asked about Duterte's brutal war on drugs.

Asked on Sunday why Trump was "honoring" Duterte with the White House invitation, Priebus told ABC, "I'm not so sure it's a matter of honoring this president."

"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," he said.

That way, Priebus added, "if something does happen in North Korea, we have everyone in line backing up a plan of action that may need to be put together with our partners in the area."

When Priebus was asked whether Trump raised the issue of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, he said he had not personally sat in on the entire phone call. But the purpose of the call, he added, was "all about North Korea."

"There is nothing facing the country and the region more important than what's going on in North Korea," he added.

Calling for denuclearization

On Saturday, during a news conference capping the 30th ASEAN Summit, Duterte had said he planned to urge Trump to exercise prudence on the North Korea issue. (READ: Duterte calls on North Korea, U.S. to 'show restraint')

Abella issued a separate statement on Monday, May 1, specifically on North Korea as a topic between Duterte and Trump.

"The Philippines calls for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the resumption of meaningful dialogue, and welcomes the United States' efforts to consult with its allies and partners in the region on this shared concern," said Abella.

The US is a dialogue partner of the ASEAN, and is the oldest and most powerful ally of the Philippines. The Philippines is one of only two treaty allies of the US in Southeast Asia.

This is the latest phone conversation between the two leaders. After Trump's surprise victory in the US presidential election in November, Duterte congratulated him over the phone.

Duterte has had kind words for Trump, in contrast with how he has bashed Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, in numerous occasions. – with reports from Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com