PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte told United States President Donald Trump he cannot scare North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with firepower, cautioning him of a major nuclear fallout in case of war in the Korean Peninsula.
Speaking to reporters on Monday after visiting three Chinese warships docked at Sasa Port in Davao City,
Duterte said that during a phone conversation with Trump on Saturday, he expressed Southeast Asian leaders’ concerns over tensions between the US and North Korea.
“It is the concern of everybody. Not only with us but the Asean guys, the heads of states also expressed their fear of an outbreak because of the threat of a nuclear warhead. The fallout would include China, they know it, and also us. And the Philippines is within striking distance of their missiles,” the President told reporters.
“I just said we are as concerned and I supposed that you – you have the persuasive power, you are showing it to him. There has to be a sense somewhere. But I said, Mr. President, I do not think that you can scare Kim Jong-un with firepower,” he added.
Duterte said he believes that “our greatest chance there of getting some dialogue with America and North Korea would be through the intercession of China.”
Trump on Saturday night invited Duterte to Washington “to discuss the importance of the United States-Philippines alliance, which is now heading in a very positive direction,” the White House said in a statement on Sunday.
The invitation was made in a phone call after the Filipino leader hosted regional leaders in the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit.
Duterte said he had yet to accept the invitation of Trump to visit Washington because of other commitments.
“No because I’m tied up. I cannot make any definite promise. I’m supposed to go to Russia, I’m also supposed to go to Israel,” he said.
White House defends invite
A top White House official on Sunday defended Trump’s invitation to Duterte, saying the need to rally Asian allies over North Korea overshadowed concerns about the Philippine president’s brutal war on drugs.
In an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Trump’s invitation to Duterte was meant to rally support in Southeast Asia to help counter North Korea as the latter continues its nuclear tests.
“There is nothing right now facing this country and facing the region that is a bigger threat than what’s happening in North Korea,” Priebus said.
“If we don’t have all of our folks together — whether they’re good folks, bad folks, people we wish would do better in their country, doesn’t matter, we’ve got to be on the same page” on North Korea, he added.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella welcomed US efforts to build alliances with its Asian partners over North Korea’s rogue nuclear program.
“One of the items President Trump and President Duterte talked about is regional issues of common concern, especially the situation on the Korean Peninsula, during their telephone conversation last Saturday evening,” Abella told Palace reporters.
“The Philippines calls for the de-nuclearization 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,” he added.
The White House also said the two Presidents discussed the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, which has made much noise in the international community.
Asked if the invitation to Duterte signals that human rights “don’t matter” in Trump’s foreign policy, Priebus said: “It doesn’t mean that human rights don’t matter, but what it does mean is that 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 to make sure we have our ducks in a row.”
“The President’s shown his willingness to stand up for human rights,” Priebus added.
On Monday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said President Duterte was being invited to “discuss the situation in the Korean Peninsula.”
“He (Trump) wants to consult him (Duterte), other allies, and strategic partners in Asia to discuss approaches to lessen the tension,” acting spokesman Robe Bolivar said.
Ties between Manila and Washington have taken a positive turn since Trump assumed office.
Unlike former US President Barack Obama, Trump has not openly criticized Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign, which has resulted in over 7,000 deaths.
Asked if he and Trump discussed the distancing of the Philippines from the US, Duterte said: “Nothing of this sort, actually. It was not a distancing but it was rather a rift between me maybe and the State Department and Mr. Obama who spoke openly against me.”
“Well, things have changed. There’s a new leadership. He wants to make friends and he says that we are friends. So why do you have to pick a fight?” he added.
WITH JAIME R. PILAPIL