WASHINGTON — President Trump placed a “warm” phone call to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been widely criticized for a bloody anti-drug crackdown, and invited him to visit the White House, both countries said.

A White House statement late Saturday said the conversation between the two leaders was “very friendly,” and added that the U.S.-Philippine alliance was “heading in a very positive direction.”

In the Philippines, a presidential spokesman said Trump expressed understanding of challenges facing Duterte, “especially on the matter of dangerous drugs.”

Human rights groups have expressed deep concern over Duterte’s harsh methods against suspected drug users and drug dealers. Human Rights Watch estimated earlier this year that at least 7,000 people, an average of 30 a day, had been killed by death squads since Duterte became president in what appeared a deliberate campaign of extrajudicial executions.

Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, defended the invitation to Duterte, saying Sunday the outreach was made largely in the context of calming regional tensions with North Korea and did not signal approval for Duterte’s methods or a larger disdain for human rights.

“The purpose of this call is all about North Korea,” Priebus said on ABC’s “This Week.” He said that Trump has been “speaking a lot to all our partners in southeast Asia” amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.