KUALA LUMPUR: It may have been a short visit for Barack Obama, but the US president was overwhelmed by Malaysian hospitality and was touched by its people's warmth and friendliness.
This was disclosed by US Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y. Yun at a media roundtable in the US Embassy here on Monday, who said Obama left Malaysia with a tinge of memorable and meaningful nostalgia.
"When Obama left, he asked me to convey his thanks to the Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak), who was such a gracious host, and to a number of ministers including (Foreign Minister Datuk Seri) Anifah Aman and (Youth and Sports Minister) Khairy Jamaluddin, who was also the minister-in-attendance, for playing a big part of this visit.
"He asked me to convey (thanks) to the hosts for their warm welcome and being engaging throughout the whole visit.
Obama was very much moved by the welcome shown to him wherever he went, from Malaysians, students at Universiti Malaya, young entrepreneurs at Cyberjaya and civil society leaders," he said.
The three-day visit to Malaysia, beginning April 26, was the first by a sitting US president in 48 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson's trip in 1966.
Yun said Obama was impressed to see crowds lining up to catch a glimpse of him along the routes he travelled during his stay here.
From a personal point of view, Yun said Obama and Najib shared a very good relationship as well as a familiarity with each other - almost like two old friends meeting.
"They have met many times on both multilateral and bilateral settings. Whenever I see those two interacting together, I am reminded that they know each other so well that I don't have to brief the president on anything at all," he said, adding that Obama's visit was a successful one.
He added that Obama had a personal familiarisation with Malaysia, whereby he was comfortable in terms of knowledge and relationship, which the president would like to build between the United States and the region.
"His personal history matters a lot, for example, during the state banquet, he recollected how his mother collected batik and his half-Indonesian sister's in-laws are Malaysians.
"Even during the small bilateral lunch at Seri Perdana, Obama was telling people how nasi goreng should be cooked, and the best way of cooking it. He also joked about durian, that he had tried it several times and was not his favourite fruit," he said.
With such a unique friendship shared between Obama and Najib, Yun said they both brought the United States-Malaysia relations to a comprehensive partnership, with greater collaboration on economy, security, education, science, technology and other fields.
"With this new phase of ties, the leaders very much left us with homework such as how we will make progress on the visa waiver programme, how to go about expanding education programmes and lastly, how to cooperate outside Malaysia and within Asean," he said.
Elaborating on the US Visa Waiver Programme, Yun said Malaysia had to meet a set of qualifications outlined by US laws, as well as provisions such as a visa refusal rate of about 3%, stolen and lost passports must be reported to Interpol and exchange of data on terrorists and criminals.
"Malaysia has met some conditions such as machine-readable passports and allowing Americans in without visas, so we are making some progress. But it will probably take a little time to be qualified for the programme," he explained.
However, he said no date was set for a series of consultations and technical briefings to carry out a proper assessment on the programme.
Citizens from countries listed under the visa waiver programme are allowed to travel and stay in the United States for a maximum of 90 days without a visa.
Malaysia's visa refusal rate stands at 5%.
On Malaysia's Chairmanship of Asean 2015, Yun said the United States was looking forward to it both diplomatically and economically, and would contribute significantly towards the future direction of Asean and its bid to become the next regional giant.
"The United States has been supportive of Asean as a grouping of nations, (that) is why we joined the East Asia Summit, by offering technical assistance to Asean on single market, energy issues. It will be an opportunity for the United States to make progress on so many things," he said. - Bernama