MANILA - US President Donald Trump is looking forward to meeting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, saying the Philippines is a strategic ally of the US.
"The Philippines is very important to me strategically and militarily,” Trump said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg News.
"I look forward to meeting him. If he comes to the White House that’s fine."
The US president said Duterte has been "very tough on the drug problem", adding that the Filipino leader has a very high approval rating in the Philippines.
The White House earlier confirmed President Trump had invited Duterte to his office during a phone call late Saturday.
Trump invited 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 US Office of the Press Secretary said in a statement.
The White House said Trump and Duterte 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."
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said a meeting between Trump and Duterte is "an opportunity for us to work with countries in that region that can help play a role in diplomatically and economically isolating North Korea."
"And, frankly, the national interest of the United States, the safety of our people and the safety of people in the region are the number-one priorities of the President," he added.
Duterte, meanwhile, said he has yet to accept Trump's invitation. "I’m tied up I cannot make any definite promise...I’m supposed to go to Russia, Israel..." he told reporters in Davao City.
Ties between Manila and Washington thawed when Trump came to power.
So far, the American leader has not directly and openly criticized Duterte's controversial campaign. The US State Department under his administration however recently described the drug-related killings in the Philippines as "troubling."
Saturday's conversation between Duterte and Trump was the second time they talked over the phone. Last December, the Philippine President called Trump to congratulate the latter over his election victory. With Reuters