What Trump and Duterte said about ‘madman’ Kim, China, drugs and going to bed late
Transcribed by the Philippine government, the conversation was released by The Washington Post and The Intercept
US President Donald Trump labeled North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un a “madman with nuclear weapons” during a private phone conversation with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte last month, just days before stating publicly that he would be “honoured” to meet with Kim.
In the April 29 call, Trump sought Duterte’s input on whether Kim is “stable or not stable” and expressed some satisfaction in North Korea’s recent failed missile tests, noting that “all his rockets are crashing. That’s the good news,” according to a transcript of the conversation made by the Philippines government on May 2 and obtained Tuesday by The Washington Post.
Duterte responded that Kim is “playing with his bombs, his toys” and offered that “his mind is not working well and he just might go crazy one moment.”
That prompted Trump to point out that the United States has “a lot of firepower over there,” including “two nuclear submarines” sent by the Pentagon to the region last month.
Later in the call, Trump raised the stakes of the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula when he observed: “We can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that. We have a lot of firepower, more than he has, times 20 - but we don’t want to use it.”
The focus between Trump and Duterte on North Korea comports with a brief public readout of the call from the White House on the day it took place. But the details of their conversation, offer a deeper view of the urgency with which Trump is attempting to enlist foreign leaders to ramp up pressure on Pyongyang to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
A senior Trump administration official acknowledged that the transcript is accurate but declined to speak on the record about “a leaked document from a foreign government.” The Post obtained the document from a person who asked not to be identified because the transcript, labelled by the Philippines government as “confidential,” is not intended for public release.
Trump is “rallying as much support as he can on North Korea,” the administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Regional support is extremely meaningful. This is how he’s trying to proactively manage a very difficult situation.”
Trump’s call with Duterte, during which he extended an invitation to visit him at the White House, was met with scepticism from some foreign policy analysts and human rights groups. Since taking office in June, Duterte has moved to hedge on the Philippines’ long-standing defence alliance with the United States by establishing closer relations with China.
And his administration has overseen a brutal extrajudicial campaign that has resulted in the killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers.
Trump has not spoken out against that strategy, and in their call he praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”
“Many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that,” Trump said, according to the transcript.
After Duterte replied that drugs are the “scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation,” Trump appeared to take a swipe at his predecessor, Barack Obama, who had canceled a bilateral meeting with Duterte after the Philippines leader insulted him.
“I understand that and fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that,” Trump said.
On his first foreign trip this week, Trump said during a speech in Saudi Arabia that his administration will not “lecture” foreign governments on human rights as the United States pursues partnerships to fight terrorism.
The senior Trump administration official said that the president was not condoning Duterte’s “individual tactics” for cracking down on illicit drugs. Rather, this was Trump’s “way of expressing solidarity over a common scourge,” the official said.
Most of his conversation with Duterte focused on how to deal with North Korea and whether China can exert more leverage on Kim’s regime. Trump acknowledged after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in mid-April that “it’s not so easy” for Beijing to alter Pyongyang’s behaviour.
But when he asked Duterte whether China has “power over” Kim, the Philippines president responded: “Yes, at the end of the day, the last card, the ace, has to be with China. It’s only China.”
In an interview with Bloomberg News three days after his call with Duterte, Trump said he would be “honoured” to meet Kim “under the right circumstances,” opening the possibility of bilateral or multilateral talks. No sitting US president has met with a North Korean leader. In another interview that week with CBS News, Trump called Kim “a pretty smart cookie” and expressed admiration for the North Korean leader having assumed power “at a very young age” after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.
Trump told Duterte he hopes “China solves the problem . . . But if China doesn’t do it, we will do it.” Duterte then offered to call Xi and emphasise the importance of altering Pyongyang’s behaviour.
“You can tell him I am counting on him,” Trump replied.
“I have a very good relationship with him. I had him in Florida for two days and got to know him well. He is a good guy.”
On May 3, the Chinese state media reported that Xi and Duterte spoke about North Korea, among other topics.
Toward the end of the call, Trump switched topics to invite Duterte to the White House, calling him a “good man.”
“I will love to have you in the Oval Office,” Trump said. “Any time you want to come . . . Seriously, if you want to come over, just let us know. Just take care of yourself, and we will take care of North Korea.”
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF THE PHONE CALL BETWEEN DUTERTE AND TRUMP
The transcript below is from the confidential document, and includes spelling errors
PRRD (Duterte): This is PRRD speaking. Yes, speaking.
US operator: Yes, Sir, just one moment for President Trump pls.
PRRD: Thank you.
POTUS (Trump): Mr president.
PRRD: President Trump, thank you for calling, and Good evening, its night over here
POTUS: Okay I hope its not too late? Its okay isn’t it? Is it too late?
PRRD: No its okay we are just having dinner with some members of ASEAN.
POTUS: Oh ok good, because (I) know you don’t sleep much, you’re just like me. You are not a person who goes to bed at all. I know that, right?
PRRD: Yes. You are right Mr President
POTUS: I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. 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.
PRRD: Thank you Mr President. This is the scourge Of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.
POTUS: I understand that and fully understand that and I think we had a previous President who did not understand that, but I understand that and we have spoken about this before.
PRRD: Yes I know that. Thank you. Yes
POTUS: so how is everyone doing, how is the Phls doing?
PRRD: We are doing fine Mr president but in the ASEAN summit every member state was really nervous about situation in Korean peninsula but we would like to tell you that we support you and keep on the pressure because as long as those rockets and warheads are in the hands of Kim Jon Un we will never safe as there’s not telling what will happen next
POTUS: Whats your opinion of him, Rodrigo? Are dealing with someone who stable or not stable?
PRRD: He is not stable, Mr president, as he keeps on smiling when he explodes a rocket. He even has gone against China which is the last country he should rebuke. But it seems from his face he is laughing always and theres as dangerous toy in his hands which could create so much agony and suffering for all mankind
POTUS: Well, he has got the powder but he doesn’t have the delivery system. All his rockets are crashing. That’s the good news. But eventually when he ges that delivery system ... What do you think about China? Does China have power over him?
PRRD: Yes at the end of the day, the last card, the ace has to be With China. Its only China. He is playing with his bombs. his toys and from the looks of it, his mind is not working well and he might just go crazy one moment. China should make a last ditch effort to him tell to lay off. China will play a very important role there.
POTUS: We have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines - the best in the world - we have two nuclear submarines - not that we want to use them at all. I’ve never seen anything like they are but we don’t have to use this but he could be crazy so we will see what happens.
PRRD: Every generation has a mad man - in our generation is Kim Jung Un- you are dealing with a very delicate problem
POTUS: we can handle it
PRRD: but you can keep the pressure on him.
POTUS: I hope China solves the problem. They really have the means because a great degree of their stuff come through China. They are doing certain things, like not accepting calls. But if China doesn’t do it, we will do it
PRRD: I will try to make a call to President Xi Jinping and I will try to tell him that if we will remain to be peaceful, China has the card. The other option is a nuclear blast which is not good for everybody.
POTUS: You can tell him I am counting on him. I have a very good relationship with him. I had him in Florida for two days and got to know him well. He is a good guy.
PRRD: I will do that. I will call his Ambassador here and will make an appointment to call him. It will be good if you can keep on the pressure on Kim but actually we are all worried as we are all are within the striking distance of his rockets. We are all afraid
POTUS: We can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that. We have a lot of firepower, more than he has, times 20 but we don’t want to use it. You will be in good shape
PRRD: We believe it, we know it all along. I will try to make a call tmrw to China
POTUS: Pls call China and tell them we are all counting on China. Tell the President - we became friends for two days - he was great.
On another subject, I am coming to see you I guess sometime
PRRD: November hopefully, we will be happy to see you
POTUS: Thank you Mr President. You are a good man. Yes, certainly in November Welcome and thank you and we will be happy to see you, Rodrigo. I look forward to seeing you.
If you want to come to the Oval office, I will love to have you in Oval Office. Anytime you want to come.
I will be in the Phls in Nov, but anytime if you are in DC or anywhere, come see me in the Oval office.
Work it out with your staff. Seriously, if you want to come over, just let us know.
Just take care of yourself, and we will take care of North Korea.
Keep up good work, you are doing an amazing job.
Say hello to people of the Philippines for me.
PRRD: They know that you are calling. It is the last day of the ASEAN Summit and everyone was asking. Sultan Bolkiah just left but I will tell remaining guys here what you told me. We are all for peace, there’s no secret about that.
POTUS: Good, you take care of yourself, come see me before November, you are invited anytime.
PRRD: I will do that Mr President. Thank you for the concern. God bless you Mr President.
POTUS: Take care of yourself, Rodrigo. God bless you.