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WASHINGTON — The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump has developed a “warm rapport” with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte even though the Manila leader has verbally attacked the United States in profane terms.
A senior Trump administration official, talking about details of Trump’s five-nation Asia visit that starts Friday and includes a stop in Manila, said Trump and Duterte have become friendly during telephone conversations and exchanges of letters.
“I think there’s a warm rapport there and he’s very much looking forward to his first in-person meeting with President Duterte,” the official said. Their meeting is scheduled on the last stop of Trump’s 12-day trip that includes visits to Japan, South Korea, China and Vietnam.
Anti-drug campaign praised
Duterte has alleged that the U.S., despite its long-standing alliance with the Philippines, has treated it “like a dog,” and a year ago, before Trump assumed power, announced a “separation” from the U.S. The Philippine leader was angered that the administration of former President Barack Obama voiced objections to the country’s extrajudicial killings of people involved in drug transactions.
But Trump, in a May call to Duterte, praised his anti-drug campaign, saying Duterte was doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”
The White House official said, “The amount of cooperation that’s taking place below the leader level, made possible by our long-standing relationship and alliance with the Philippines, is still very robust. And that expands to areas like counter-terror, all of the close people-to-people ties between the countries, and human rights as well. The president will have frank and friendly discussions in his first meeting with Mr. Duterte.”
Elsewhere on his trip, Trump is planning to advance efforts to force North Korea to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and pushing countries in the region to adhere to United Nations sanctions to limit trade with Pyongyang that it needs to fund its missile and nuclear tests.
No DMZ visit
But the White House official said Trump, unlike some other U.S. presidents, “is not going to visit the DMZ,” the heavily armed buffer zone between North and South Korea.
He said, “There’s not enough time in his schedule. It would have had to be DMZ or Camp Humphreys,” a military base south of Seoul, the South Korean capital, to highlight the military cooperation between the U.S. and South Korea.
“No president has visited Camp Humphreys, and we thought that that made more sense in terms of its messaging, in terms of a chance to address families and troops there,” the official said.
“It’s becoming a little bit of a cliche, frankly” to visit the DMZ, the official said, noting that Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all visited the buffer zone this year.