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Carter: Philippines President’s Hitler Comments 'Deeply Troubling'

With the U.S. and Hawaii flags fluttering in the background, Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at a press conference during a defense ministers meeting of ASEAN, in Kapolei, Hawaii, Sept. 30, 2016.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter says he finds comments by the president of the Philippines comparing himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler “deeply troubling.”

Speaking in Hawaii to reporters following a meeting with ASEAN defense ministers, Carter said Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent comments and internal actions were not discussed during Friday’s gathering, so he was giving his “own view.”

Duterte on Friday likened himself to the Nazi leader, saying, “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now, there are 3 million drug addicts. … I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

Philippine police and vigilantes have killed at least 3,000 people for drug use and drug sales since Duterte took office at the end of June.

His comments have been condemned by U.S. Jewish groups as inappropriate and offensive.

Duterte's spokesman rejected the link to Hitler Saturday, saying "We do not wish to diminish the profound loss of six million Jews in the Holocaust ... The president's reference to the slaughter was an oblique deflection of the way he has been pictured as a mass murderer, a Hitler, a label he rejects."

On Thursday, Carter said the U.S.-Philippines military relationship is “ironclad,” despite Duterte's recent statement that U.S. special forces at bases in his country should leave.

Carter said he had “very good” talks with Philippines Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana about the topic of joint operations. “That’s something that we continue to discuss with the Philippines government,” he said.

The ASEAN defense meeting in Hawaii Thursday and Friday marked the first time Carter had spoken with Lorenzana since Duterte said his country would pursue an “independent foreign policy,” adding that “as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace.”

“But that was immediately walked back by the defense minister,” Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA. “Clearly the military brass in the Philippines does not feel the same way as Duterte.”

U.S. officials told VOA that to date there had been no movement toward actually pulling American forces out of the southern Philippines.

Carter said the U.S.-Philippines alliance is one made “of independent and strong nations” that “depends upon the continuation of a sense of shared interests.”

A senior defense official said the U.S.-Philippines relationship has survived its “ups and downs” for more than 60 years.

The U.S. and Philippines have a joint exercise planned for early October, but defense officials say they are uncertain about additional joint exercises beyond that one.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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