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M'sia, US upgrading bilateral ties to comprehensive partnership

Malaysia and the United States have agreed to upgrade their bilateral relations to a comprehensive partnership, said Prime Minister Najib Razak.

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia and the United States have agreed to upgrade their bilateral relations to a comprehensive partnership, said Prime Minister Najib Razak.

This, he said, marked a new phase in the relationship, with greater collaboration on the economy, security, education, science, technology and other fields.

"We also decided to reinvigorate the Senior Officials Dialogue as a key forum for high-level discussion. Together, these agreements lay a firm foundation for further co-operation to come," he said.

Najib was speaking at a joint press conference with US President Barack Obama following talks between both leaders on Sunday.

Obama is on a three-day visit to Malaysia, the first by a sitting American president in nearly 50 years.

Najib said that Malaysia, a modern and progressive Muslim nation home to a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, had long known the benefit of cooperation across borders and recognised the power of shared prosperity.

"Your presence here marks the beginning of the next phase of our partnership -- with deeper friendship and a more comprehensive partnership," he said, adding that the stage was set for a new phase in Malaysia-US ties, one based on greater cooperation needed to equal current challenges.

Najib said Malaysia welcomed America's rebalancing towards Asia, and its contribution to peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

"Our continents share an ocean, we should be connected by common policy, too. We believe all parties should share in Asia's remarkable growth story, provided they also share a commitment to the peace upon which it depends," he said.

The Malaysian leader also touched on Malaysia's chairmanship of Asean next year and its bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

"As we prepare for this...we seek a greater role in promoting global peace and regional stability. In these endeavours and more, our friendship with the United States is immensely valued," Najib said.

The prime minister said he appreciated the US' strong support for Asean and the East Asia Summit, and for the confidence it had expressed in Malaysia's Asean chairmanship 2015.

He highlighted Kuala Lumpur's role in helping to secure a comprehensive peace deal for southern Philippines, ending a conflict which claimed 150,000 lives and denying Al Qaeda and its affiliates a possible foothold in that region.

"We have rejected religious extremism, by establishing the Global Movement of Moderates," he noted.

The prime minister further said that he and Obama agreed to strengthen cooperation in peacekeeping training.

On the South China Sea, Najib said he and Obama both stressed earlier the importance of upholding universally recognised principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"We agreed that the full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties was vital, and that an effective Code of Conduct would enhance mutual trust," he said.

At the start of the press conference, Najib took the opportunity to elaborate on the long-standing Malaysia-US ties, with the establishment of diplomatic relations on the day of Malaysia's independence, in 1957.

Alluding to the first visit by an American president to Malaysia in 1966, Najib said: "Today, Mr President, you see not rubber trees as Lyndon B Johnson did, but soaring skycrapers.

"They are testament to the transformation that's taking place here in Malaysia. And on this journey, we're thankful for the United States' hand of friendship," he said.

Najib said in the decades that followed Malaysia's independence, when ideological tensions tore at Southeast Asia, the US and Malaysia remained firm friends.

Over the past few years, he said, Kuala Lumpur and Washington had been working to strengthen the bonds between both sides.

"Today, we see the fruits of this labour. On the economy, security, people-to-people relations, we're closer now than ever before," he added.

Meanwhile, Obama in the press conference said that the US was "absolutely committed" to providing more assets to assist in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean.

"I can tell you the United States is absolutely committed to providing whatever resources and assets that we can," he said. 

Malaysia is the third stop in Obama's four-nation tour of Asia which started in Japan, followed by South Korea. The president is scheduled to leave for the Philippines on Monday.

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