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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte addresses the media during his joint press statement with Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo following their bilateral meeting at the Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines Friday, April 28, 2017. When Duterte hosts a summit of Southeast Asian leaders this weekend, the spotlight will be on him. Just less than a year in power, Duterte faces a mass murder complaint before the International Criminal Court and an impeachment bid at home as bodies continue to pile up in his war on illegal drugs. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Trump invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House


President Doland Trump invited Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte to the White House during what administration officials referred to as a "very friendly" call. 

During Saturday's call, Trump expressed the nation's commitment to developing "a warm, working relationship" with the controversial leader. 

"The discussion that transpired between the presidents was warm, with President Trump expressing his understanding and appreciation of the challenges facing the Philippine president, especially on the matter of dangerous drugs," presidential spokesman Ernie Abella said in a statement. 

Duterte has been widely criticized for escalating the war on drugs in the Philippines after taking office in June 2016. Approximately 7,000 people have died as part of his crackdown on drugs, NBC reports citing Human Rights Watch. 

Rodrigo Duterte's Rise to Power
Rodrigo Duterte's Rise to Power

Relations between the Philippines and the U.S. became strained under Obama, who Duterte said could "go to hell."

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus defended Trump's decision to pursue friendlier relations with the Philippines despite the leader's human right's record. 

Priebus stressed the importance of working with allies in the Pacific, amid threats of an attack from North Korea

"It doesn't mean that human rights don't matter, but what it does mean is that the issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row," Priebus said in an interview on ABC's "This Week." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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