WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and White House officials on Monday defended as diplomacy his warmer overtures to the strongman leaders of North Korea and the Philippines.
Trump, in an interview with Bloomberg News, said he would “be honored” to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, though “under the right circumstances.”
He also told the outlet he invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to visit the White House because the country is “very important to me strategically and militarily.”
Kim and Duterte are the latest of controversial heads of state for whom Trump has had cordial or admiring words. Trump congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a referendum expanding his powers, told Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi that the United States is “very much behind” Egypt and tweeted that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “very smart.”
Human Rights Watch has labeled North Korea, whose nuclear ambitions the Trump administration has been working to discourage, an authoritarian state and one of the world’s most oppressive regimes.
The Philippine government’s crackdown on drugs has resulted in more than 7,000 deaths, according to Human Rights Watch. Duterte was warned by the International Criminal Court for “possible crimes against humanity” and “instigating and inciting extrajudicial killings,” the group’s deputy director for Asia, Phelim Kine, told The Associated Press.
Trump acknowledged Duterte’s handling of the drug war.
“He’s been very, very tough on that drug problem, but he has a massive drug problem,” Trump told Bloomberg.
Duterte hasn’t yet accepted Trump’s invitation, extended in a phone call Saturday, but White House officials described their conversation as a “very friendly.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump was reaching out to Duterte with the goal of building a coalition of countries to “economically and diplomatically isolate North Korea.”
Asked why the president described potentially meeting Kim as an honor, Spicer said, “He’s still a head of state. There is a diplomatic piece to this.”
The press secretary added of the circumstances under which Trump would meet with Kim: “We’ve got to see their provocative behavior ratchet down immediately.”
North Korea has been testing ballistic missiles off its coast.
Trump expressed a grudging respect for Kim to CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, calling him a “very smart cookie” for having assumed power at a young age and resisted those trying to take power from him.
In the same wide-ranging interview, Trump guaranteed that the House plan he is pushing as a replacement for Obamacare would cover pre-existing conditions.
But he did not detail what it would cost patients.
“Coverage of pre-existing conditions is at the core” of the current House GOP proposal, Spicer said. “That is something that . . . [Trump] has ensured is in the current bill, and will continue to push for to make sure that coming out of the Senate.”
The press secretary couldn’t say whether those with pre-existing conditions would be covered at a higher cost, but said the administration is making “sure that the system that we employ gets . . . [costs] down.”