"I think there's a warm rapport there," the official said
Trump and Duterte spoke by phone in April
President Donald Trump has publicly chastised members of the NATO alliance, and in private, he’s sparred over the phone with the presidents of US allies like Mexico and Australia.
But when it comes to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has sanctioned extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users and dealers and been accused of a slew of human rights violations, Trump enjoys a “warm rapport,” a senior administration official said Tuesday.
“I think there’s a warm rapport there. He’s very much looking forward to his first meeting with President Duterte,” the senior administration official said during a briefing for reporters from the White House briefing room ahead of the President’s 12-day swing through East Asia.
Trump’s embrace of Duterte is not an outlier. He has repeatedly embraced and praised strongmen around the world and he has resisted discussing human rights publicly in meetings with leaders who have faced widespread human rights violations allegations.
The official said Trump and Duterte have exchanged letters and spoken on the phone ahead of Trump’s trip to the Philippines, which will be the final stop of the trip.
Trump and Duterte spoke by phone in April and a leaked transcript of the call – confirmed broadly by a senior US official – revealed that Trump repeatedly praised Duterte.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte. “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.”
Government data show that well over 3,000 people, alleged users and dealers, have died in the ongoing crackdown. Human rights groups say more than 9,000 have been killed in police operations and by vigilante groups.
Trump also criticized his predecessor President Barack Obama during the call, noting that Obama “did not understand” the drug problem the Philippines faces.
Duterte was openly critical of Obama in the final year of his presidency, calling him a “son of a whore.”
Asked to clarify the comments describing the “warm rapport,” the senior administration official said that Trump and Duterte “had a rapport” during their phone call and pointed to “robust” cooperation at lower levels of government, including on counterterrorism.
Trump has sought to deepen US-Philippines ties for help in confronting North Korea’s ongoing development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and in confronting terrorist groups like ISIS that have sprung up in the Philippines.
CNN’s Josh Berlinger and Elise Labott contributed to this report.