President Obama and controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte bumped into each other while attending a dinner of world leaders here on Wednesday, exchanging niceties after Obama canceled an earlier sit-down because of vulgar comments Duterte directed toward him in public.
The encounter "consisted of pleasantries" between the two before the gala dinner of the Assn. of South East Asian leaders meeting here this week, according to a White House official.
The description of a toned-down encounter diverted from their exchanges from afar earlier in the week.
Ahead of what would have been their first meeting, Duterte anticipated that Obama would press him on violent crackdowns on narcotics trafficking in the Philippines as well as charges of extrajudicial killings. Duterte declared in an interview that he would curse Obama if he dared to bring up the matters in their private encounter. "Son of a bitch, I will swear at you," promised Duterte, whose history of crude remarks gained notice internationally after he was elected this year.
Obama said shortly afterward that he did plan to discuss his concerns about Duterte's record on human rights, a subject he almost always broaches with other world leaders. Obama then decided that in light of Duterte's comments, the two probably couldn't have a "productive" discussion during his final presidential trip to Asia and canceled the meeting.
The meeting with the leader of a key American ally in the region had been intended in part to remind the Chinese government that the U.S. has strong relationships in Southeast Asia, all part of Obama's strategy of providing a strong counterbalance to the rising Chinese power on the continent.
After Obama canceled the meeting, Duterte retreated, telling journalists that he regretted his words. White House aides said later that the two might bump into each other in the halls at the ASEAN summit instead, a bit of choreographed diplomatic theater that lowers the stakes for a possibly fraught encounter.
Indeed, Obama had a "brief discussion" with Duterte on Wednesday in a private room where world leaders mingled outside the view of the press before they entered the gala, according to an Obama administration official.
The conversation between the two was private. But as far as U.S. officials are saying, no foul words were uttered.
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