Not meeting Anwar doesn't mean I don't care, says Obama

PUTRAJAYA - Not meeting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim this time does not mean he was not concerned about reforms or the opposition leader's fate, said US president Barack Obama.

"The fact that I haven't met with Anwar is not indicative of our lack of concern, given the fact that there are a lot of people I don't meet with. That doesn't mean that I'm not concerned about them," he said.

Obama said issues of freedom of the press, human rights, civil liberties are always on the agenda of his meetings overseas.

He was responding to a question from Major Garrett of CBS News, who had asked why Obama did not speak up on human rights, racial tolerance, political accountability and free speech which Garrett described as relevant issues in Malaysia.

"I think when you say that issues are all 'up for grabs' in Malaysia, I think that implies a judgment about what's happening here in Malaysia that may not fully reflect the progress that's been made by Prime Minister (Datuk Seri) Najib (Tun Razak)," said Obama.

"And I think the Prime Minister is the first to acknowledge Malaysia has still got some work to do," said Obama, who pointed out that Najib came into office as a committed reformer.

"I'm going to continue to encourage him as a friend and a partner to make sure that we're making progress on that front," said Obama.

Najib pointed that out a slew of reforms were introduced when he took office, including doing away with the Internal Security Act.

"Other countries have not done so, but Malaysia has taken the lead in doing so.

"We've also introduced the Peaceful Assembly Act," he said while citing these as the largest reform in terms of civil liberties in Malaysia's history.

He also pointed out that the Anwar case was not about the Government being against him.

"It's an action taken by an individual who happens to be his former employee who has taken up a case against him," he said.

Najib gave his assurance that Malaysia was committed to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and civil liberties.

"As Prime Minister, I'm committed to ensuring peace, stability and harmony. That is the most important thing."