President Donald Trump on Tuesday praised Malaysia for its role in countering terrorism, as he welcomed Prime Minister Najib Razak to the White House amid a U.S. probe into a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal that has implicated the Malaysian leader.
Trump also lauded Najib’s government for no longer doing business with North Korea, as he put it, suggesting this was “very important” as Washington engaged in multilateral efforts aimed at stopping Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
“The Prime Minister has a major role in not allowing ISIS – or, as you say, Daesh – and others to exist. And he’s been very, very strong on terrorism in Malaysia, and a great supporter from that standpoint,” the American president said, referring to Islamic State (IS) by other names, as Najib listened. “That’s a very important thing to the United States.”
Najib, flanked by Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman and other top advisers, emphasized his government’s support for Washington’s global campaign against terrorism.
“We are committed to fight Daesh, IS, Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf -- you name it,” Najib said before the two leaders held bilateral talks that were closed to the media, according to a transcript released by the White House. “They are the enemy of the United States, they are also the enemy of Malaysia, and we will do our part to make sure that our part of the world is safe.”
Najib told Trump that his majority-Muslim nation would join the fight against IS through ideological warfare “because you need to win the hearts and minds.”
“And the key to it is to support moderate and progressive Muslim regimes and governments around the world, because that is the true face of Islam; that is the authentic face of Islam,” he said. “The more you align with progressive and moderate regimes, the better it would be in terms of winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.”
During the past two years, Malaysia’s government has warned its citizens about a threat to national security from Islamic State recruitment of local youths and of IS terror plots on its territory. Malaysia, through its foreign ministry, operates a facility known as the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counter-Terrorism with assistance from the U.S. State Department.
Before heading into their bilateral meeting, Trump noted that Malaysia “does not do business with North Korea any longer, and we find that to be very important.”
Najib did not say anything about this, according to the transcript.
Malaysia, however, is among 10 ASEAN countries that maintain diplomatic and commercial ties with North Korea, although relations between Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang were strained earlier this year following the assassination on Malaysian soil of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
According to a report published by the Associated Press on Sept. 9 and that cited U.N. experts, Malaysia was among some countries that imported coal from North Korea over a six-month period ending in early August, in violation of United Nations sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
On Monday, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to boost sanctions on North Korea after Pyongyang’s sixth and largest nuclear test this month. The sanctions, the ninth such resolution adopted against North Korea since 2006, banned textile exports and capped fuel supplies.
As Najib listened, Trump told reporters that he had just discussed the U.N. vote with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“We had a vote yesterday on sanctions,” he said. “We think it’s just another very small step – not a big deal. … I don’t know if it has any impact.”
“But those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” Trump said, without elaborating.
Najib, also talked about his country’s contribution “in terms of strengthening the U.S. economy,” emphasizing investments and deals worth more than $10 billion, including the acquisition of dozens of Boeing 737 and 787 airliners.
Before departing for Malaysia on Wednesday evening, Najib is expected to witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Malaysian Airlines and Boeing, according to the New York Times.
Najib said Malaysian Airlines would acquire eight 787 Dreamliners and more than two dozen 737-MAX 10 jets from Boeing.
“And there is a strong probability – not possibility – probability that we will add 25 more 737 MAX 10 in the near future,” he said. “So within five years, the deal will be worth beyond $10 billion.”
Najib said he would also persuade low-cost carrier, AirAsia to purchase U.S.-made General Electric engines, and he told Trump about plans by the Employees Provident Fund, a major pension fund in Malaysia, to invest about $7 billion in the United States.
‘Not here to ask for money’
Najib arrived at the White House amid criticism against the Trump administration for inviting him there despite a U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) criminal investigation into allegations that more than $4.5 billion was stolen from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state investment fund. 1MDB was founded by the Malaysian prime minister, who has denied any wrongdoing.
“With his White House invitation, Mr. Trump has neatly gotten Mr. Najib off that hook and provided him with what the regime will portray as a tacit pre-election endorsement,” the Washington Post said in an editorial Monday. “If the White House received anything in exchange for that huge political favor, it’s not evident.”
“Not only is Mr. Najib known for imprisoning peaceful opponents, silencing critical media and reversing Malaysia’s progress toward democracy,” it said. “He also is a subject of the largest foreign kleptocracy investigation ever launched by the U.S. Justice Department.”
The Justice Department alleges that businessmen associated with 1MDB diverted $4.5 billion from the fund including nearly $700 million, which ended up in the prime minister's private bank accounts.
When asked whether the 1MDB issue came up during the meeting between Trump and Najib, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon that she was not aware of the DOJ probe being mentioned in their conversations.
During a dinner event for Malaysian-Americans at the Malaysian Embassy on Monday night, Najib, who faces possible elections next year, signaled the focus of his talks with Trump.
“We are not here to ask for money from the U.S.,” Najib said. “We come here as a rising country that is successful and growing and determined to succeed to the ranks of the top 20 nations of the world in 2050.”
“I am here to show Malaysia is an important country to the United States,” he said. “We bring to the table a great deal of value propositions.”