World

Najib to meet Trump as US pushes for closer ties

Boost for embattled Malaysian Prime Minister

President Donald Trump will meet Prime Minister Najib Razak in Washington next month, signalling a new phase in bilateral ties that have been clouded recently by the US Department of Justice probe into the affairs of state-owned investment firm, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The White House said Mr Trump would welcome Mr Najib on Sept 12 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of bilateral relations.

A White House statement yesterday said: "President Trump looks forward to celebrating the 60th anniversary of United States-Malaysia bilateral relations and discussing ways to strengthen and broaden our bilateral relationship and expand regional cooperation with one of America's closest partners in South-east Asia."

The official visit represents a major political boost for the embattled Malaysian leader who is struggling to lift his political prestige, hit mostly by the 1MDB scandal, at home.

Mr Najib already enjoys close ties with China's top leadership, particularly with President Xi Jinping, who is set to visit Malaysia in November.

Diplomats said the warming relations with the Trump administration could present Kuala Lumpur with a unique role to play in ties between the two superpowers as they jostle for dominance in the region.

According to Malaysian government officials, Mr Najib will be in the US from Sept 10 to 12, and will hold talks with politicians on both sides of the divide - Republicans and Democrats - in Washington.

On Sept 11, Mr Najib will also visit New York, where he will pay his respects at the 9-11 Memorial and Museum to mark the 16th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks.

The announcement of Mr Najib's trip to Washington comes at a time when other little-publicised backroom engagements between the two countries are taking place.

The director general of Malaysia's powerful National Security Council, Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, is in Washington for talks at the invitation of US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Diplomats said Mr Zulkifeli, the former armed forces chief, is part of the "advance party" for Mr Najib's visit and his talks with Lieutenant-General McMaster today would centre on Malaysia's growing role in the US strategy to neutralise North Korea.

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