Malaysian PM Anwar meets Hamas leaders in Qatar amid US concerns

Treasury officials from Washington visited Malaysia last week to discus their worries that the Palestinian group was fundraising there.
Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysian PM Anwar meets Hamas leaders in Qatar amid US concerns Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (left) is seen with Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Palestinian group Hamas, in a photo posted by the PM on his Facebook account, on May 14, 2024, to which the accompanying post said they met in Qatar.
Via Facebook/Anwar Ibrahim

Malaysian leader Anwar Ibrahim made clear on Tuesday he won’t be dictated to, by meeting with top Hamas leaders in Qatar, days after American officials visited Malaysia to discuss concerns about the Palestinian group raising funds there. 

The prime minister’s meeting underscored that his government’s foreign policy priorities would not change despite high-profile visits to Malaysia by Western officials and allies of Israel who have said they want to cut off the source of cash for the Tehran-backed militant group, regional analysts said. 

“You don’t tell me who I should meet, or who I should not,” Anwar said, when asked at a Q&A session held by Bloomberg News whether the meeting would upset Washington, coming as it did soon after the U.S. Treasury sent officials to Malaysia to discuss alleged terror funding from there.

Like Malaysia, Muslim-majority neighbor Indonesia similarly continues to support the Palestinian cause, with observers noting that Washington’s diplomatic efforts in the Asia-Pacific region may have taken a hit because the United States remains a staunch supporter of Israel –  especially in the latest conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Anwar met the Palestinian group’s top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, in Qatar while on three-day state visit, the PM said Tuesday on Facebook, adding at a forum that Washington had no proof that Iran was using Malaysian waters to sell its oil – which the U.S. has imposed sanctions on – to raise funds for Hamas.

“Why did I meet with Ismail Haniyeh and [former head of Hamas] Khaled Mashal … [It] is to understand from them the latest developments [on Gaza] … [to] express my sympathy, particularly on the assassination of the children and ask their point of view on what’s happening,” Anwar said Tuesday at the Qatar Economic Forum, referring to the thousands of Palestinian children killed in Israeli strikes.

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speaks at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha, May 14, 2024. [Karim Jaafar/AFP]

Malaysia has consistently advocated for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and Anwar has denounced Israel for its air and ground assaults that have killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks that killed around 1,100 in the Jewish state. 

Since Oct. 7,  Anwar has also consistently rebuffed U.S. pressure to label Hamas a terrorist group, saying his government would not be coerced. 

His home minister last week similarly but “nicely” conveyed to visiting U.S. Treasury officials that Malaysia would not kowtow to other nations’ sanctions on Iran or anyone else. 

Brian Nelson, the U.S. Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told a Malaysian news source, Malaysiakini, last week that there had been an increase in funds flowing to Iran and its so-called proxies – including Hamas – via the Malaysian financial system. He said the U.S. was trying to prevent Malaysia from becoming an area where Hamas could raise and transfer funds.

In December, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on four Malaysia-based companies it accused of helping Iran’s production of drones. Washington accuses Iran of supplying deadly drones to what it says are terrorist proxies in the Middle East and to Russia for use in Ukraine.

Nelson told Malaysiakini the main method that Iran used to raise money was through the sale of oil to buyers in East Asia, the Associated Press news agency reported.

“Many of these shipments traverse the waters around Malaysia and are loaded onto vessels of questionable legitimacy that may also pose major environmental and safety risks,” he told the local news outlet.

In Qatar, Anwar said the U.S. made these claims without proof.

“Not one shred of evidence they have adduced,” he said at the Q&A session.

He said the U.S. had every right to “demand or request an explanation,” and that Malaysia-U.S. ties remained strong.

“We do differ with some of their policies, the contradictions, the hypocrisy, but overall they are still friends,” he said, referring to Washington.

Malaysian Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail (second from left) speaks with Brian Nelson (right), the U.S. Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, before their official meeting in Putrajaya, May 9, 2024. [Via Facebook/Saifuddin Nasution Ismail]

Regional political analysts, meanwhile, said Anwar’s meeting with Hamas leaders was meant to reassure Malaysia’s commitment to peace in the Palestinian territories. 

“Malaysia is just consistent with the standing it has long had over Palestine – supporting the two-state solution, sending humanitarian aid and trying to play a mediating role. It’s not spontaneous, it’s been there for decades,” Julia Roknifard, of the School of Politics, History and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, told BenarNews. 

“So instead of seeing it as deliberately provocative, I’d rather look at it as consistency in Malaysia’s foreign standing.”

Additionally, Malaysia prioritizes safeguarding its national interest and remains firm in its foreign policy while resisting U.S. pressure, said Tunku Mohar Mokhtar, an assistant professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia.

“Malaysia does not allow itself to be bullied by the U.S. In the meantime, it also understands the importance of having strong and friendly relations with the U.S.,” he told BenarNews.

“I think Malaysia can offer support to the U.S. leadership role in Southeast Asia and the larger Asia Pacific, and this is of value to the U.S.”


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