Malaysia, United States have 'work to do' on human rights, Obama says


President Obama said the need to improve human rights in Malaysia was prominent on his agenda during his visit with the country's prime minister on Sunday.

During a joint press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, the president said both leaders are aware that there is much work to do on human rights, noting that freedom of the press and civil liberties are crucial talking points in every discussion around the world.

"I think the prime minister is the first to acknowledge that Malaysia has still got some work to do — just like the United States, by the way, has some work to do on these issues," Obama said. "And I am going to be constantly committed to making sure that these issues get raised in a constructive way."

Obama added that Najib came into office as a reformer committed to making progress on human rights.

Obama downplayed the fact that he wouldn't be meeting with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim during his visit after being questioned on it.

Former Vice President Al Gore and the group Human Rights Watch had urged Obama to meet with Anwar. 

"The fact that I haven’t met with Mr. Anwar in and of itself is not indicative of our lack of concern, given the fact that there are a lot of people I don’t meet with and opposition leaders that I don’t meet with and that doesn’t mean that I’m not concerned about them," Obama said.

Obama is sending his national security adviser, Susan Rice, to meet Anwar on Monday. The opposition leader, a former deputy prime minister, was recently convicted for the second time on sodomy charges that the U.S. and international human rights groups have called politically motivated.

Anwar presents the strongest political threat to Najib, who defended himself on Sunday.

Najib highlighted steps he has taken to promote human rights issues, communicating that he and Obama are "equally concerned about civil liberties as a principle."

Talks between the two leaders also covered the recent work by the U.S. to reach a TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with 11 other countries.

Obama said the U.S. and Malaysia agreed to work expeditiously to resolve any concerns with the final standards of the agreement. He added that on Monday the two leader will join business executives as they sign three commercial agreements valued over $1 billion of new trade investment between the two countries.

Obama departs Malaysia on Monday for the Philippines, following earlier stops in Japan and South Korea on his four-country Asia trip.