"HELLO, Mr President."
"Hello, Mr Prime Minister."
After the greetings President Barack Obama invited Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to sit with him for their first-ever bilateral meeting at the Walter E Washington Convention Centre where the United States is hosting the inaugural Nuclear Security Summit.
Reports on their meeting said the two leaders looked relaxed as they settled down for their 40-minute discussion that touched on trade, security in the Asian region, Malaysian-American ties and Malaysia's role in the Islamic role.
The meeting took longer than the half-hour that was scheduled for the talks.
Present at the 11am meeting Monday (11.30pm Malaysian time) were acting Foreign Minister Dr Rais Yatim and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Also in the PM's delegation were Foreign Ministry secretary-general Rastam Mohd Isa and Malaysian ambassador to the US Jamaludin Jarjis.
A 'fresh spring' in bilateral ties
Media reports said the meeting, ahead of the Summit in Washington, sent clear signals of a 'fresh spring' in relations between the two countries.
Najib is among 46 world leaders invited for the two-day summit, the largest ever gathering of international leaders in the US capital, as Obama seeks a global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism.
The PM is one of two Asian leaders granted a face-to-face meeting with Obama. The other is Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Obama had scheduled bilateral meetings with also three others leaders; King Abdullah of Jordan, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and Armenian President Serzh Sargsian.
Speaking to Malaysian journalists later, Najib hailed what he described as a "new beginning in Kuala Lumpur-Washington relations" and said that Malaysia looked forward to a much more positive development in the ties between both countries.
He said the new development in the ties between both countries could contribute to regional peace and prosperity.
Obama, on the other hand, expressed satisfaction over the KL-Washington ties and took note of positive developments in Malaysia.
Najib said Obama’s willingness to engage, listen and not adopt an antagonistic approach in dealing with the Muslim world was a change from the previous Bush regime.
“I think it is a refreshing change by the new administration but I hope it is not only in style and approach but also in substance,” said Najib, who met Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit.
The prime minister is among 46 world leaders, including those from nuclear powers and developed as well as developing countries, invited by Obama to the summit where leaders seek to safeguard weapon-grade nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terror groups.
“This is a recognition for us and shows that Malaysia is not just a national community but also part of the global community in which we play an integral role in helping to create a stable and peaceful world,” the PM said.
Apart from meeting Obama, Najib also attended a working lunch with US Vice-President Joe Biden and 11 other summit delegates at the US Naval Observatory.
Najib’s discussion with both leaders touched on wide-ranging issues including steps to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons towards making the world free of weapons of mass destruction.
A hectic schedule for PM
Immediately after the meeting, Najib was whisked away for a lunch hosted by Vice-President Joe Biden at his residence in the US Naval Observatory for 12 of the summit dignitaries.
According to the White House, Biden's guests discussed Obama's commitment for a nuclear weapon free world and addressed the goals of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Apart from Najib, the others included South African President Jacob Zuma, Nigerian acting President Dr Goodluck E.Jonathan, Vietnamese President Nguyen Tan Dung, Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi, Indonesian Vice President Boediono and Thai Deputy Prime Minister Trairong Suwankiri.
The others were Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medeici, Saudi Arabia's Prince Muqrin Abd al-Aziz Saud, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.
It was a hectic day for Najib, who began his day with an early morning meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel with US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinburg and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman who paid a courtesy call on him.
Malaysia's nuclear stand
Najib is slated to hold a bilateral meeting with his New Zealand counterpart John Key at the convention centre in the afternoon before attending a welcoming reception by Obama for all invited heads of government.
In the evening, Najib will attend a Heads of Delegation working dinner chaired by Obama where the discussion topic is “Threat of Nuclear Terrorism”.
At the summit, Najib is expected to stress on Malaysia’s stance that any nuclear programme should be used only for development and peace.
A White House statement after the meeting said the two leaders agreed on the importance of Iran strictly abiding by its obligations under the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.
"The two leaders also agreed on the need for the international community to send a clear signal to Iran that while it has the right to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy, Iran should not use this right to develop nuclear weapons capability as stated in UNSC and IAEA resolutions," the statement said.
Iran, which is at loggerheads with the United States over its atomic program, is not represented at the nuclear summit.
Ahead of Najib's arrival in Washington, Malaysia passed a law to curb the trafficking of nuclear weapon components after being linked to illegal supply of sensitive technology to countries including Iran and Libya.
The Strategic Trade Bill, approved by Parliament about week ago, provides for prison terms of at least five years and fines of millions of ringgit for those illegally bringing in or exporting material that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction.
Helping hand to Afghanistan
Najib also stated in the talks with Obama that Malaysia was ready to consider "capacity building" in cooperation with Afghanistan through the training of police, military personnel and civilian administrators, the White House said.
Malaysia at present provides training to Afghan teachers and public officials.
Obama telephoned Najib last June to discuss the global financial crisis and nuclear non-proliferation issues and the prime minister took the opportunity to raise the issue of two Malaysians detained in Guantanamo for alleged links to the Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah militant groups.
The summit is part of Najib's week-long working visit to the US, his second since taking office in April last year.— Malaysian Mirror