18 July 2019
US President Barack Obama arrives at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, Laos on Monday. Photo: Reuters
US President Barack Obama arrives at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, Laos on Monday. Photo: Reuters

Obama cancels meeting with Philippines’ Duterte after insult

US President Barack Obama canceled what would have been his first meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, after Duterte described Obama in vulgar terms, according to a White House spokesman.

Duterte, known for his colorful remarks and his campaign against illegal drugs in which thousands of people have died, described Obama as a “son of a bitch” to reporters on Monday, a day ahead of the planned meeting in Laos, where Southeast Asian leaders are meeting for an annual summit.

Obama learned about the insult as he emerged from the Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou, China, Reuters reports.

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 little 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.

Instead, Obama now plans to meet later on Tuesday with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, said Ned Price, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

They are expected to talk about their response to North Korea’s latest missile tests.

Obama arrived in Vientiane just before midnight on Monday.

The White House had said Obama did not plan to pull any punches on his concerns about human rights abuses in the Philippines, its treaty ally, when meeting Duterte.

Duterte won the presidency in May as he promised to suppress crime and wipe out drugs and drug dealers, and a wave of extrajudicial killings has followed.

He said it would be “rude” for Obama to raise the human rights issue, and told reporters such a conversation would prompt him to curse at Obama, using a Filipino phrase for “son of a bitch”.

“Plenty will be killed until the last pusher is out of the streets. Until the [last] drug manufacturer is killed we will continue,” he said.

It’s not the first time Duterte has cursed at a world leader.

He called Pope Francis a “son of a whore” in May, and called US Ambassador Philip Goldberg a “gay son of a whore”.

On Monday, Obama said he recognized the importance of fighting the drug trade, but insisted it must be done under the rule of law.

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