Of Iran, fish, and nuclear bombs

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has met notorious Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, with Iran, fish and nuclear bombs among the topics of conversation during a curious opening.

Duterte, whose country hosted the East Asia Summit, has attracted global notoriety for his support for the extrajudicial killing of drug users and dealers, as well as boasting of personally killing people in the past.

Yet opening the bilateral meeting late Tuesday night (Philippines time), Duterte apologised for keeping Ardern waiting and thanked her for her attendance at the summit.

He said he had visited New Zealand twice and was impressed - although he described what seemed to be a run-in with a customs officer.

“My companion brought some fish that she bought at the wharf there and everybody was warned not to bring anything, almost like do not bring anything that is alive, including you.”

Duterte said he was interested in the welfare of the 50,000 or more Filipinos living in New Zealand, and believed they had made a good decision.

“New Zealand is a country small but of course really governed well and protected well ahead of the time [sic], and that is good.”

He questioned Ardern about her country’s nuclear capability, asking: “You do not have the atom bombs there, you don’t have nuclear bases there?”

After Ardern replied in the negative, Duterte said, “Yeah I suspect you have none, I didn’t see your police wearing guns”, and Ardern told him Kiwi police were not routinely armed.

"We consider ourselves a very peaceful nation and of course advocate for those principles and values.”

There appeared to be some confusion when Ardern mentioned a new deal with Philippines Airlines to fly non-stop between Manila and Auckland, with Duterte instead talking about Iran.

“I don’t have anything against Iran, they’re old friends of ours, but...frankly the Sunnis and the Shiites, that’s what creating a problem for all of them.”

Earlier in the day, Ardern had confirmed she would push Duterte on the issue of human rights in the Philippines.

"Our view is that that number of deaths certainly requires investigation and oversight - at the very least."

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