Clinton reaches out to Malaysian Muslims

2010-11-02 10:27

Kuala Lumpur – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was set to meet top officials in Malaysia on Tuesday as the Obama administration cultivates ties with the moderate Muslim-majority country.

The chief US diplomat is due to hold talks in the capital Kuala Lumpur with Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is standing in for a sick Prime Minister Najib Razak.

A Malaysian government official had said on condition of anonymity on Monday that she was also scheduled to see opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is fighting sodomy charges that could see him jailed for up to 20 years.

Aides to Anwar had also said they expected a meeting. But US officials said on Tuesday that no such talks had been scheduled.

Anwar, a former deputy premier who was sacked and jailed on separate sex and corruption counts a decade ago, says he is again the victim of a political conspiracy and fears he will not receive justice on the latest allegations.

Welcomed attention

On a visit to Washington in June, Anwar welcomed the attention paid to Malaysia by President Barack Obama but said Washington needed to be careful not to be "condoning the excesses" of Najib's government.

As part of her bid to reach out to Muslims, Clinton will also visit the International Institute for Islamic Thought and Civilisation to field questions about US foreign policy in a programme broadcast on Malaysian television.

US officials said the audience will include mainly university students but also members of civil society.

They said Clinton was also meeting with Malaysian women leaders ahead of the event, which is part of so-called public diplomacy where Clinton strives to make America's case before a larger audience than the usual politicians and diplomats she meets.

Malaysia is the fifth stop on an Asia tour that has taken Clinton to Guam, Vietnam, China and Cambodia. She is still to visit Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia and American Samoa.

Bilateral relationships

"Few countries have come as far in terms of our bilateral relationship as the one between the United States and Malaysia," Clinton's top diplomat for Asia, Kurt Campbell, said before the tour began last Wednesday.

He cited "enormous progress on a range of issues – (nuclear) proliferation issues, political co-ordination, and strategic dialogue".

Malaysia is also important as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an organisation the Obama administration is trying to re-engage with after blaming the previous Bush administration for ignoring it.

Political relations were rocky when Malaysia was led by Mahathir Mohamad, who was known for his strident criticism of the West during two decades in power which ended when he stepped down in 2003.

The US sometimes riled Malaysia with past calls to expand democratic freedoms.