The White House justified President Donald Trump's decision to invite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to Washington, saying Duterte’s cooperation with the United States was needed in order to counter the threat from North Korea.

When asked about the president’s invitation to the controversial leader of the Philippines, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday: “There is nothing right now facing this country and facing the region that is a bigger threat than what’s happening in North Korea.”

“I'm not so sure it's a matter of honoring this president or any of the facts that you've laid out there, it's really a matter of a potential for nuclear and massive destruction in Asia and the potential, at least according to North Korea, of developing an ICBM that could, at some point down the line if we do nothing, potentially reach the United States. This is a different level of problem that we need cooperation among our partners in Southeast Asia,” Preibus added.

Trump invited Duterte on Saturday during a phone call between the two leaders. Trump had a “very friendly conversation with Duterte,” according to a statement issued by the White House late Saturday, cited by the New York Times. The statement also said the two leaders “discussed the fact that the Philippines is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs.”

Priebus said during the interview on ABC’s “This Week” that the invitation for Duterte to visit the White House “doesn't mean that human rights don't matter, but what it does mean is that the issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row.”

Duterte has been accused by international human rights groups of backing a campaign of extrajudicial killings that resulted in deaths of numerous people involved with the sale or use of drugs, as well as of others who might not have had any connection to narcotics.

“Celebrating a man who boasts of killing his own citizens and inviting him to the White House, while remaining silent on his disgusting human rights record, sends a terrifying message,” John Sifton, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in response to Trump's invitation, according to Reuters. “By effectively endorsing Duterte's murderous ‘war on drugs’, Trump has made himself morally complicit in future killings.”

According to New York Times, the White House statement suggested Trump was eager to improve ties between Manila and the United States. It said the president’s invitation was mainly aimed “to discuss the importance of the United States-Philippine alliance, which is now headed in a very positive direction.”

Trump also invited Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to the White House on Sunday. The Thai leader, a former general, came to power in a 2014 coup and currently chairs a military government in the country, and his administration was said to have had a difficult relationship with former President Barack Obama.