Obama can­cels

Won’t meet Duterte af­ter harsh words by Philip­pine leader

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE -

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama called off a planned meet­ing Tues­day with new Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, seek­ing dis­tance from a US ally’s leader dur­ing a diplo­matic tour that’s put Obama in close quar­ters with a cast of con­tentious world fig­ures.

It’s un­usual for one pres­i­dent to tell an­other what to say or not say, and much rarer to call the other a “son of a bitch.” Duterte man­aged to do both just be­fore fly­ing to Laos for a re­gional sum­mit, warn­ing Obama not to chal­lenge him over ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings in the Philip­pines.

“Clearly, he’s a col­or­ful guy,” Obama said. “What I’ve in­structed my team to do is talk to their Philip­pine coun­ter­parts to find out is this in fact a time where we can have some con­struc­tive, pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tions.”

Early Tues­day, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil spokesman Ned Price said the meet­ing with Duterte was off.

Duterte has been un­der in­tense global scru­tiny over the more than 2,000 sus­pected drug deal­ers and users killed since he took of­fice. Obama had said he planned to raise the is­sue in his first meet­ing with Duterte, but the Philip­pine leader in­sisted he was only lis­ten­ing to his own coun­try’s peo­ple.

“You must be re­spect­ful,” Duterte said of Obama. “Do not just throw ques­tions.” Us­ing the Ta­ga­log phrase for “son of a bitch,” he said, “Pu­tang ina I will swear at you in that fo­rum.” He made the com­ment to re­porters in Manilla.

Ea­ger to show he wouldn’t yield, Obama said he would “un­doubt­edly” still bring up hu­man rights and due process con­cerns “if and when” the two do meet.

The bizarre rift with the leader of a US treaty ally was the most glar­ing ex­am­ple of how Obama has fre­quently found him­self bound to for­eign coun­tries and lead­ers whose ties to the US are crit­i­cal even if their val­ues sharply di­verge.

And sit­ting down with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, Obama made no men­tion in pub­lic of the roughly 35,000 peo­ple Er­do­gan’s gov­ern­ment de­tained af­ter the sum­mer’s failed coup in Tur­key. In­stead, he worked to re­as­sure Tur­key that the US would help bring to jus­tice the coup plot­ters.

Obama spent about 90 min­utes Mon­day with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, an­other leader whose fate seems in­ter­twined with Obama’s in all the wrong ways. On op­pos­ing sides of many is­sues, the two are try­ing to bro­ker a deal to ad­dress the Syr­ian civil war and per­haps even part­ner mil­i­tar­ily there.

“Pres­i­dent Putin’s less col­or­ful,” Obama said, com­par­ing him with Duterte. “But typ­i­cally the tone of our meet­ings is can­did, blunt, busi­nesslike.”

Man­ag­ing Duterte has be­come a wors­en­ing headache for Obama since the Filipino took of­fice on June 30, pledg­ing his for­eign pol­icy wouldn’t be con­stricted by re­liance on the US Wash­ing­ton has tried largely to look the other way as Duterte has pur­sued closer re­la­tions with China, a marked shift from his pre­de­ces­sor.

A pub­lic break from the Philip­pines would put Obama in a tough po­si­tion, given the South­east Asian na­tion’s sta­tus as a long­time US ally. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has sought to com­part­men­tal­ize by ar­gu­ing that mil­i­tary and other co­op­er­a­tion won’t be jeop­ar­dized even if it de­tests the cur­rent Philip­pine leader’s tone.

Last month, Duterte said he didn’t mind Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry but “had a feud with his gay am­bas­sador — son of a bitch, I’m an­noyed with that guy.” He ap­plied the same moniker to an Aus­tralian mis­sion­ary who was gang-raped and killed, and even to Pope Fran­cis, even though the Philip­pines is a heav­ily Catholic na­tion. He later apol­o­gized.

With a rep­u­ta­tion as a tough-on-crime for­mer mayor, Duterte has alarmed hu­man rights groups with his deadly cam­paign against drugs.

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