White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus stands as President Donald Trump speaks during the National Governors Association meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House, February 27, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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Priebus said a visit with Duterte is necessary to work together against North Korea

He stressed the importance of allies in the Pacific

Washington CNN  — 

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus defended President Donald Trump’s decision to invite Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House, saying the visit is necessary to work together against North Korea.

“This is a different level of problem that we need cooperation among our partners in Southeast Asia,” Priebus told ABC’s Jonathan Karl on “This Week.” “The issue on the table is North Korea, and 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 stressed the importance of working with allies in the Pacific in the wake of threats of a nuclear attack from North Korea, and that includes Duterte, despite accusations that he has committed human rights abuses.

When pressed about Duterte’s history on human rights, Priebus deflected.

“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.”

“If we don’t have all of our folks together, whether they’re good folks, bad folks, people that we wish would do better in their country, doesn’t matter,” Priebus said. “We have got to be on the same page.”

Since he became President last year, Duterte has encouraged the extrajudicial killings of thousands of citizens suspected of dealing or using drugs.

Before his phone call with Trump, Duterte said the world would suffer if the United States and North Korea – led by Kim Jong Un – could not defuse the situation.

Trump has been warning of a possible clash with the North Korea in recent days, saying there could be a “major, major conflict.”

Pressed on whether that meant military action, Trump said, “you’ll soon find out” during a factory tour in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Saturday.