ASEAN foreign ministers agree to US meeting with Trump

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 20) — Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers have agreed to US President Donald Trump’s proposal for a special meeting between him and the top leaders of the regional bloc.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. tweeted Monday that ASEAN foreign ministers “adopted the consensus to hold the ASEAN-US Summit” with Trump during their retreat in Khanh Hoa, Vietnam last week.

Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh said in his statement during the retreat that ASEAN foreign ministers welcomed Trump’s invitation for a special summit this year. Minh said they will report this to leaders of their respective countries for their final decision.

Trump has skipped ASEAN summits for two years in a row, with most Southeast Asian leaders snubbing the scheduled US-ASEAN meeting in Bangkok, Thailand last year, where the US President sent National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien as his representative.

Trump’s invitation to ASEAN leaders was sent in November 2019, but Malacañang only released it to the media on Sunday.

It is not clear whether Duterte has accepted the invitation for him to come to the US. Trump has repeatedly invited Duterte to Washington, but the Philippine President has yet to make that visit.

Trump’s invitation came ahead of the approval of proposals in the US Congress to ban Philippine officials involved in extrajudicial killings and what US senators have described as "wrongful detention" of opposition Senator Leila de Lima. The opposition senator has been in jail for more than two years over drug charges, with the court trial hitting a snag.

Since inviting ASEAN leaders to the US, the US Senate has urged Trump to deny US entry to and block all US-based transactions in property and interests of "members of the security forces and officials of the Government of the Philippines responsible for extrajudicial killings... and responsible for orchestrating the arrest and prolonged detention of Senator De Lima."

The move is in line with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, an American law which allows Washington to punish foreign officials implicated in "significant corruption or gross violations of human rights" in any part of the world. Under the law, the US President shall decide on requests to impose sanctions on human rights violators and corrupt foreigners within 120 days.

Trump also signed in December a spending measure which includes a reference to a Senate committee report which instructs US State Secretary Mike Pompeo to ban foreign officials who have had a hand in the “wrongful imprisonment” of opposition Senator Leila de Lima from entering the US.

EXPLAINER: How the US budget law bans Philippine officials

Tim Rieser, a senior foreign policy aide of Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, previously told CNN Philippines that it “would not be easy” for Pompeo to ignore the proposed ban as the State Department has taken notice of De Lima’s plight in human rights reports.

CNN Philippines’ Xave Gregorio and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.