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WASHINGTON/TAMPA (Reuters) – The US State Department and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Tuesday stressed the need for ties with the Philippines to be based on mutual respect, after Manila’s new leader raised worries about the future of the key alliance by calling President Barack Obama a “son of a bitch.”
Despite US dismay over Duterte’s remarks, current and former US officials played down the impact, saying they did not expect any serious damage to ties at a time of high tensions over China’s extensive territorial claims in Asia.
The State Department said a planned first meeting between Obama and his counterpart Rodrigo Duterte on the sidelines of a regional summit in Laos on Tuesday was canceled because the tone of the Philippine leader’s rhetoric raised questions about the chances of productive talks.
“Words matter, and we want to see an atmosphere that is cordial and open to strong cooperation,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a regular news briefing in Washington.
Clinton, who as secretary of state was an architect of Obama’s policy of emphasizing the importance of the Asia Pacific to US interests in the face of a rising China, said Obama was right to cancel the meeting.
“When the president of the Philippines insulted our president, it was appropriate in a very low-key way to say:
sorry, no meeting,” she told reporters on her campaign plane.
“We have a lot of ties between the United States and the Philippines. And I think it’s very important that we have a relationship, but there has to be a certain level of respect that is expected on both sides,” Clinton said.
Duterte made the remark about Obama while explaining that he would not be lectured over extrajudicial killings in the war against drugs he has launched since taking over two months ago and which has killed about 2,400 people.
He has previously called the pope a “son of a whore” and the US ambassador a “gay son of whore.”
The Philippines voiced regret for Duterte’s comments after Obama canceled a formal bilateral meeting. The White House then said Obama might speak with Duterte informally.