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Obama cancels meeting with Duterte after Philippine leader calls him ‘son of a whore’

In profane rant, Duterte had threatened to curse Obama if US leader raised issue of human rights, extrajudicial killings

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2016, 3:36am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2016, 7:32am

US President Barack Obama has cancelled a meeting with new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, after the populist firebrand called Obama a “son of a whore” and vowed he would not allow the American leader to lecture him on human rights.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said Obama would meet instead with President Park Geun-hye of South Korea today.

Obama learned about the insult as he emerged from the Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou, China, on Monday. At a news conference, he said he had told his aides to speak with Philippine officials “to find out is this, in fact, a time where we can have some constructive, productive conversations,” leaving doubt that the meeting would proceed as planned.

“I always want to make sure that if I’m having a meeting, that it’s actually productive and we’re getting something done,” Obama told reporters.

Duterte, who had been scheduled to meet Obama on Tuesday on the Asean summit’s sidelines, has been under intense global scrutiny over the more than 2,000 suspected drug dealers and users killed since he took office. Obama has 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 Tagalong phrase for son of a whore, he said: “Putang ina I will swear at you in that forum.” He made the comment to reporters in Manilla.

Obama steers clear of troubled waters in comments at G20 summit

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.

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 eventually do meet.

Philippines’ Duterte launches tirade against Obama, calls him ‘son of a whore’

In Hangzhou this week, Obama’s first stop in Asia, he heaped praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping for hosting the Group of 20 economic summit in his country, an authoritarian state long accused of human rights violations. His next stop was another one-party communist country with a dismal rights record: Laos, where mysterious disappearances have fueled concerns about a government crackdown.

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 following the summer’s failed coup in Turkey. Instead, he worked to reassure the NATO ally the US would help bring to justice whoever was responsible for plotting the coup.

Obama also 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 global issues, the US and Russia are nonetheless trying to broker a deal to address the Syrian civil war and perhaps even partner militarily there.

“President Putin’s less colourful,” 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 pursued closer relations with China, a marked shift for the Philippines considering recent tensions over Beijing’s aspirations in the South China Sea.

A public break from the Philippines would put Obama in a tough position, given the Southeast Asian nation’s status as a long time US ally.

The Obama administration has sought to compartmentalise by arguing that military and other cooperation won’t be jeopardised 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 apologised.

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

He’s said the battle doesn’t amount to genocide but has vowed to go to jail if needed to defend police and military members carrying out his orders.

Additional reporting by Reuters