WASHINGTON/MANILA – US President Barack Obama and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte may yet meet again during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Peru later in November.
This loomed as White House spokesman Josh Earnest left open the possibility of a bilateral meeting between President Obama and President Duterte on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Peru.
Earnest said he did not know whether Duterte would attend the summit or how much time Obama’s schedule would allow for bilateral meetings on the sidelines.
A schedule is still being worked out, Earnest said.
In the Philippines, there is no official confirmation of Mr. Duterte attending his first APEC leaders summit. However, he has sent many Cabinet members led by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol to Peru for ministerial meetings prior to the leaders summit.
Duterte has visited China, Japan, Brunei and Laos and is expected to visit Malaysia.
Asked if the White House would be open to arranging an Obama-Duterte meeting, Earnest said “it’s not one I’m prepared to rule out at this point.”“But we’ve ruled out previous meetings with President Duterte on short notice,” he pointed out.
Obama scrapped a meeting with Duterte in September on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit in Laos after the Filipino leader called him a “son of a b**ch” for raising human rights concerns regarding Duterte’s bloody campaign against drugs and criminality.
Some 3,700 people have been reported killed since June 30 at the start of the Duterte administration.
This will be the first APEC meeting for Duterte and the last for Obama who will step down on Jan. 20, 2017 following the Nov. 8 US presidential election.
Earnest said a “string of counterproductive rhetoric” by Duterte has injected some unnecessary uncertainty in the relationship between the Philippines and the US.
“That rhetoric that we’ve seen quite a bit of over the last several weeks is not indicative of the strong relationship between the United States and the Philippines. It’s not indicative of the seven-decade-long alliance between our two countries. It’s not indicative of the deep cultural ties between our two countries, particularly given the sizeable Filipino-American population in this country,” he said.
Earnest said despite Duterte’s unwelcome rhetoric, “we haven’t received any formal notification or communication from the Filipino government that they’re planning to make any changes to our relationship.”
President Duterte said during the Philippine Economic Forum in Tokyo that he wants US troops out of the Philippines in the next two years and all military agreements with Washington scrapped if necessary.
Duterte’s remarks followed a series of anti-American tirades.
Earnest said there is a diplomatic process wherein the Philippines could formally notify the US of its intent to alter the terms of the alliance between the two countries.
“We’ve received no formal notification along those lines. So that’s why I would classify as rhetoric at this point the news that’s been made out of the Philippines,” Earnest said.
“It does contribute to some uncertainty and that uncertainty is inconsistent with what has for the last seven decades been a rock-solid alliance that’s benefitted people and governments in both countries,” he added.