Trump discusses ‘madman Kim & good guy Xi’ in leaked call with Philippines’ Duterte
The full transcript of the conversation from April 29, at the close of the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila, was leaked on Tuesday to both the Washington Post and The Intercept. A senior Trump administration official acknowledged the accuracy of the transcript to the Washington Post, while well-placed Philippines sources confirmed its authenticity to Philippines’ Rappler news.
Trump opened the friendly call by congratulating Duterte for his “unbelievable job on the drug problem.” But most of the conversation focused on the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, who continues to conduct missile tests in defiance of UN resolutions.
“What’s your opinion of him, Rodrigo?” Trump asked, wondering whether the North Korean leader is “stable or not stable?”
“He is not stable, Mr. President as he keeps on smiling when he explodes a rocket. He has even gone against China which is the last country he should rebuke,” Duterte replied. “But it seems from his face he is laughing always and there’s a dangerous toy in his hands which could create so much agony and suffering for all of mankind.”
The conversation between the two leaders took place just as North Korea launched a medium-range missile. The projectile known as a KN-17 appeared to have blown up a few seconds into flight. It was the second failed test of a ballistic missile that month.
“As long as those rockets and warheads are in the hands of Kim Jong-un we will never be safe as there’s no telling what will happen next,” Duterte told Trump, noting “we are all afraid” of Korean rockets.
At the time when the conversation took place, Washington had already sent the USS Carl Vinson to Korean waters. Just days before the conversation, the USS Michigan, a guided-missile submarine arrived in South Korea as an additional show of force amid tensions between the US and North Korea.
“We have lots of firepower over there. We have two submarines, the best in the world, we have two nuclear submarines – not that we want to use them at all,” Trump told Duterte, after earlier stating that an all-out conflict was a strong possibility.
“We have a lot of firepower, more than he has, times 20, but we don't want to use it,” the US leader reiterated.
Calling the North Korean leader a “madman” of this generation, Duterte warned Trump that he is dealing with a “very delicate problem” when it comes to North Korea. The Philippines leader stressed that China will play a key role in resolving tensions around Pyongyang's nuclear program, stating that “China is the ace.”
“At the end of the day, the last card, the ace has to be China. It is only China,” Duterte noted during the conversation, offering to call the Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“You can tell him I am counting on him,” Trump replied. “I have a very good relationship with him... He is a good guy.”
“I hope China solves the problem,” Trump said. “They really have the means because a great degree of their stuff comes through China. They are doing certain things, like not accepting calls. But if China doesn’t do it, we will do it.”