Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is highly regarded by US President Donald Trump as a trusted partner who is accorded serious attention particularly on issues highlighted by Malaysia, according to Foreign Minister Anifah Aman.
Anifah said he came to this conclusion after observing the ease with which Trump engaged with Najib and the appreciation the former accorded to the prime minister at the recent Asean Summit and Related Summits in the Philippine city of Manila.
Sharing his experience of the 31st Asean Summit and Related Summits with the media here, Anifah said Trump had words of praise for Najib at the Asean-US Dialogue held in conjunction with the summits.
Trump gave Najib a pat on the back for what the former said was the outstanding role Malaysia played in coordinating the Asean-US Dialogue, Anifah said, adding that Trump said before all the leaders present that he and Najib had been friends even before he became the US president.
Anifah quoted Trump as saying: “Prime Minister Najib is a good friend of mine, a very good friend of mine. We have known each other before I became President, when I was in the business world. In life, you will never know where you will end up.”
The foreign minister said Trump made the statement at the outset of the dialogue as he looked at all the Asean leaders present.
Anifah said Trump’s statement that Najib was a good friend of his was indeed an appreciation because the US President was “selfish” with words of praise for leaders and countries.
“But, he (Trump) singled out Malaysia. He said Najib is a good friend of mine. These are not words that Trump says easily,” he said, adding that Trump's body language indicated that he was sincere.
Anifah, who had been observing Trump closely since his campaign to become the US President, said he found Trump to be direct and straightforward, in keeping with his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”.
He said that guided by that slogan at his maiden participation in the Asean-US Dialogue, Trump stated his commitment to Asean interests and said he appreciated the Asean-US Dialogue and sought mutually beneficial cooperation.
Trump had called for free and fair trade practices to address the trade imbalance between Asean and the US, he said.
Anifah said Najib had the qualities that elicited in Trump the appreciation and trust for the prime minister, and cited one of these as the consistent stand Malaysia projected on various matters, such as the Rohingya and South China Sea issues.
He also said that while Malaysia was close to China, it did not compromise on issues that involved the sovereignty of the country.
Anifah said Trump would listen intently whenever Najib presented an issue.
"If Najib doesn't impress Trump on national, regional and international issues, I don't think Trump will give much attention to him," he said.
He said it must be Trump’s own evaluation of Najib that it was worthwhile to have a friend in this part of the region and a friend "you can trust".
Anifah also said it must have been the friendship developed by Najib and Trump earlier that was a factor in Najib getting invited to the White House a few months after Trump became the US president.
Sharing his experience in helping to arrange the meeting between Najib and Trump, Anifah said he sent a letter proposing their meeting to discuss major issues with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in May.
“There was no necessity to pay any consultant. We never engaged a consultant or paid anybody else," he said, adding that he was informed when sending the letter that the meeting between Najib and Trump would be accorded priority.
The meeting between Najib and Trump at the White House took place on Sept 12.
"It is four months from May to September. If Najib had not known Trump, would it have been possible to have a bilateral meeting within four months?” asked Anifah.
Anifah said an invitation might be extended for President Trump to visit Malaysia after the 14th general election, which is due by June 2018.