HANGZHOU, China — After being called an obscenity by the president of the Philippines, President Obama canceled a meeting with the leader that had been scheduled for Tuesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte had threatened to curse out Obama if he raised the issue of extrajudicial killings by Philippine authorities in a sweeping crackdown on drug trafficking. Speaking to reporters, Duterte, who took office in June, said the Philippines is a "sovereign state and we have long ceased to be a colony," according to the Associated Press.
He added: "I do not have any master except the Filipino people, nobody but nobody. You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions. 'Putang ina,' I will swear at you in that forum." That is the Tagalog phrase for "son of a bitch" or "son of a whore."
But on Tuesday, in a statement read by his spokesman, Duterte expressed regret that his comments "came across as a personal attack" on the U.S. president. The statement said a meeting "between the United States and the Philippines" had been arranged for a later date.
Obama said earlier Monday that he had been told of Duterte's obscene comment, but he shrugged it off as another in a line of "colorful statements" from Duterte.
"Clearly, he's a colorful guy," Obama said during a news conference after the Group of 20 summit in China. The president added that he had asked his staffers to speak with their Philippine counterparts to "make sure if I'm having a meeting, it's productive and we're getting something done." Obama called the Philippines a close "friend and ally" of the United States.
Hours later, Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said that the meeting with Duterte on Tuesday afternoon had been canceled and that Obama would instead meet with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
More than 2,000 suspected drug dealers have been killed since Duterte took office, and Obama earlier said that when speaking with Duterte, he would not shy away from the topic of "international norms" when it comes to due-process rights.
"We recognize the significant burden the drug trade plays in the Philippines and around the world," Obama said. But "we will always assert the need to have due process and engage the fight against drugs in a way that is consistent with basic international norms. Undoubtedly, if and when we have a meeting, this is going to be something that’s brought up. My expectation, my hope, is that it could be dealt with constructively."
Before the meeting was canceled, Obama suggested that the talk was predicated on whether Duterte was willing to have a serious conversation.
"I’m just going to make an assessment," Obama said at the time. A few hours later, he canceled the meeting.
Nakamura reported from Washington. Kristine Guerra contributed to this report.