Barack Obama offered Malaysia support yesterday in the mystery over missing flight MH370, as he started the first visit to the country by a US president in nearly half a century.
Stepping onto a red carpet at the Royal Malaysian Air Base, Obama was whisked by limousine to Kuala Lumpur's Parliament Square, where a 21-gun salute rang out as Malaysia's king and prime minister greeted him under muggy skies.
Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who is leading Malaysia's efforts to determine the fate of the missing passenger jet, said he spoke briefly with Obama after his arrival.
"He said he knows it is a tough, long road ahead. We will work together. There is always support," Hishammuddin said. "I am very happy to hear [this] because it is a long journey."
The brief encounter occurred during an official welcoming ceremony at the Parliament Square, where Obama met his host, Prime Minister Najib Razak.
In a Malaysian newspaper interview published yesterday, Obama touted growing security co-operation with Malaysia as a way to ensure "freedom of navigation in critical waterways" and that nations "play by the same rules" - a reference to China.
But Malaysia also is a close trading partner of China, and it disagrees with aspects of Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which has also met resistance in Japan.
In his two-day visit, which follows stops in Japan and South Korea, Obama will also meet with citizen leaders and hold a town hall-style forum with young leaders from across the region.
Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters travelling with Obama that the president typically did not meet opposition leaders during foreign visits, but felt the issue was important enough to dispatch national security adviser Susan Rice instead.
Before departing Seoul yesterday, Obama addressed US troops stationed in South Korea and received a military briefing focused on North Korea.
Obama told the troops that North Korea was a "pariah state" whose heavily militarised border with the South marked "freedom's frontier". He said Pyongyang's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons was "a path that leads only to more isolation".
"We don't use our military might to impose these things on others, but we will not hesitate to use our military might to defend our allies and our way of life," Obama told cheering soldiers at the Yongsan garrison.
"So like all nations on earth, North Korea and its people have a choice. They can choose to continue down a lonely road of isolation, or they can choose to join the rest of the world and seek a future of greater opportunity, greater security and greater respect - a future that already exists for the citizens on the southern end of the Korean peninsula."
North Korea is already subject to UN sanctions over its previous three atomic tests.
Recent satellite data shows continued work at the nuclear test site in North Korea, although experts analysing the data say that preparations do not appear to have progressed far enough for an imminent test.
Adding to tensions surrounding Obama's visit to South Korea, North Korea announced on Friday that it had this month detained a 24-year-old American who had demanded asylum after arriving in the country on a tourist visa.
Obama made no mention of the arrest of the man, whom Pyongyang identified as "Miller Matthew Todd".
Halfway through his eight-day, four-nation trip, Obama has started showing signs of weariness from the mileage and the 12-hour time shift from Washington while travelling in Asia.
He normally jogs up the stairs to Air Force One, but yesterday slowed to a walk instead.
Additional reporting by Associated PressTopics: Sino-Japanese relations More on this: