Obama gets royal welcome to Malaysia


President Obama received a royal welcome from Malaysia leaders Saturday as he arrived for the third leg of his weeklong tour of Asia.

After landing in Kuala Lumpur, the president was taken to the National Palace, where he was honored at a 600-person state dinner for being the first U.S. president to travel to the country in nearly 50 years.

Malaysian King Abdul Halim Muadzam extended a toast to Obama for U.S. support in the wake of the missing Flight 370 airliner that disappeared March 8.

Obama returned the toast in a few words in Bahasa Malaysian as he recalled his mother's love for batik art, according to the White House pool report. 

"For my mother, batik wasn't about fashion," Obama said. "It was more about a window into the lives of others -- their cultures, and their traditions and their hopes."

He added: "Whether we come from a remote village or a big city, whether we live int eh United States or in Malaysia, we all share basic human aspirations."

Those aspirations, he said, will signal the new era of partnerships between the U.S. and Malaysia.

During his two-day visit, the president will discuss trade and commercial relations, including the ongoing TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

On Friday, the White House admitted Obama fell short of his goal of striking a trade deal with Japan, one of the 11 countries the U.S. hopes to tie up negotiations with by the end of this year.

Also on the agenda, are efforts to deepen commercial ties with Malaysia, and up the amount of U.S. exports. The president will discuss with Malaysian leaders ways to increase the two countries defense and security relationship.

He will meet with Prime Minister Najib Razak and hold a town hall-style forum during his stay.

He will not be meeting personally with opposition leaders in Malaysia, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Saturday. Rhodes said the president has "a very packed schedule in Malaysia” and "doesn’t frequently meet with opposition leaders when he visits other countries.” 

He said "it was important" that top national security aide Susan Rice was meeting with Malaysian opposition leaders, including Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Rhodes said the U.S. supports a deepening of the democratic process in Malaysia and is concerned by “any restrictions in the political space.”

Obama has already visited Japan and South Korea as part of a four-nation tour of Asia.

This story was updated at 2:09 p.m.