U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met privately with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Monday at his Malacanang Palace in Manila amid growing tensions surrounding North Korea's nuclear program.
Ahead of the meeting, Ernesto Bella, Duterte's presidential spokesman, said the two would likely discuss global terrorism threats, economic cooperation and security in Marawi, a city beset by pro-Islamic group militants for more than two months. The conflict in Marawi has killed nearly 700 people to date.
In conversations with reporters after the meeting, Duterte said U.S. officials did not bring up human rights violations. He has been criticized by human rights groups yet praised by U.S. President Donald Trump for his harsh tactics combating drugs. This war has left more than 3,000 dead in police shootouts as well as thousands of others killed in strange circumstances since its start.
"Human rights, son of a bitch," Duterte said. "Policemen and soldiers have died on me. The war now in Marawi, what caused it but drugs? So human rights, don't go there."
Tillerson told reporters ahead of the meeting that supporting Duterte as the Philippines fight the Islamic State group in Marawi did not mean that human rights concerns would be left out of the discussion.
"I see no conflict - no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of the human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counter narcotics activities," Tillerson said.
The top American diplomat said the U.S. has lent a hand to the Philippines already in Marawi in that regard, providing surveillance technology, including drones, as well as training, aircraft and information to fight the militants.
"The real challenge is going to come with once they have the fighting brought to an end how to deal with the conditions on the ground to ensure it does not re-emerge," Tillerson said.
Monday's meeting marked the highest-level in-person interaction to-date between the Philippine president and a member of Trump's administration, though Trump has extended an invitation to Duterte to visit Washington.
Tillerson has been busy at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' 50th annual regional conference, extending an olive branch to North Korea if it stops launching its ballistic missiles and conferring with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about Russia's retaliatory response to recently imposed U.S. sanctions against it.
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