According to a leaked transcript of president Donald Trump’s telephone conversation with Philippine’s strongman Rodrigo Duterte last month, Trump revealed the U.S. had two nuclear submarines in the North Korean peninsula, in an unusual disclosure of the movements of U.S. military assets, several news outlets reported Wednesday.
According to the report, Trump and Duterte discussed the North Korean threat, with each referring to North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong Un, as a “madman.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that Trump also praised the Philippines’ president for an “unbelievable job” in a fight against illegal drugs that has left thousands dead and drawn condemnation from American lawmakers.
“I just want to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump said in the phone call, according to the transcript. “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.”
Trump’s discussion with Rodrigo Duterte is likely to reinforce the impression that Trump is sidelining human rights concerns in his foreign policy. Trump has met with several authoritarian leaders since taking office in January, offering few critiques of their records on democracy, the rule of law and protecting essential freedoms.
Democratic lawmakers criticized Trump for his reported comments.
“Today’s reporting leaves me even more concerned by President Trump’s strange fascination with dictators, his support for the extrajudicial killings central to President Duterte’s ‘drug war,’ and his recklessness with sensitive information,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Twelve Democratic senators, led by Edward J. Markey, wrote to Trump on Wednesday calling for him to denounce the “murderous” anti-drug campaign and delay any visit by Duterte to Washington until there are improvements in his human rights record.
President Obama had criticized Duterte’s drug fight, prompting the Philippine leader to refer to Obama as a “son of a whore.” The insult derailed a planned meeting between them. Strains also grew as Duterte sought warmer ties with China and threatened to end the U.S.-Philippine military alliance.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, criticized the contents of the conversation.
“Trump’s celebration of Duterte’s record is nothing short of horrifying,” Sifton said. “It is an endorsement of the mass killing of the Philippines’ poorest and most vulnerable.”