There is more to Mahathir’s 2002 US trip than meets the eye

Raja Petra Kamarudin

In 2002, FAC News, the Free Anwar Campaign website, revealed that President Bush refused Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s many requests to meet him. At one point, Dr Mahathir even sulked and said that if President Bush did not want to meet him then never mind as he can always spend his valuable time doing other things anyway.

Finally, President Bush agreed to meet Dr Mahathir and FAC News revealed that this was achieved only after Malaysia paid a sizeable amount of money to a US lobby firm to get them to arrange the meeting.

That revelation by FAC News was three years ago. Today, (Malaysia spent millions to buy influence in Washington) the US Senate is investigating why this money paid was never declared and the source of the money not revealed. But what is even more important than this, what compromises did Malaysia have to agree with to enable Dr Mahathir to meet President Bush?

Well, read on, and you will be very surprised at what concessions Malaysia had to offer the US. And this is even more important than the fact Malaysia had to pay ‘under the table money’ before President Bush would meet Dr Mahathir.

Malaysiakini, yesterday:

Dr M’s US visit ‘funded by govt’
Pauline Puah
Apr 25, 05 5:22pm

Former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s visit to the United States in 2002 was funded by the government and audited according to procedure, said Foreign Affairs Ministry parliamentary secretary Zainal Abidin Osman today.

Responding to a question from parliamentary Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timor), he told the Dewan Rakyat that the visit was arranged through diplomatic channels.

“Tun (Mahathir) did visit US in 2002. He went there on the invitation by US president George W Bush,” he said during the ministry’s winding-up speech for the Supplementary Supply (2004) Bill 2005 at the committee stage.

However, Zainal said he did not have information on whether any lobby activities involving public funds had taken place prior to the visit.

“I don’t have the information (of lobby activities) before the visit. What I can stress here is that all the expenditure was paid by the government and the account was audited,” he added.

A recent news report in US daily, Washington Post, stated that Mahathir had allegedly hired Washington lobbyists through the US-based Heritage Foundation to persuade the White House to agree to the visit.

The report claimed that the expenditure for the lobby activities amounted to about RM5.3million.

It said investigations revealed the money was paid to Hong Kong-based Belle Haven Consultants – a company linked to Heritage president Edwin Feulner – which funnels funds to lobbyists in Washington.

The daily also stated that Heritage Foundation diluted its criticism of Malaysia soon after Belle Haven accepted the multi-million ringgit contract to lobby in favour of Kuala Lumpur.

Mahathir met Bush at the White House in May 2002. It was the former premier’s first state visit since 1994.

FAC News, 7 May 2002:

Mahathir’s tea may turn out to be hot soup instead

Next week, Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad will be in the United States to meet President Bush – an invitation he practically went on his hand and knees to get.

It is bewildering why a man who has said so many bad things about America would now want to kowtow to its President. I would imagine, in keeping within proper “protocol”, America’s Vice-President should first make an official visit to Malaysia then officially invite Mahathir to the US. Then Mahathir would have been able to “save face” and not be seen as wanting to go so much.

What is Mahathir really up to? Has he now repented and, from being an American-basher, has now turned into its greatest friend in the Muslim world?

This is not Mahathir’s first trip to the US since Bush became its President. But his earlier trip did not quite turn out the way he had hoped. Not only was President Bush “too busy” to meet him, but when Mahathir visited “ground zero”; the NY WTC site; the Mayor of New York refused to accompany him and sent a junior official instead.

It must be noted that when the Saudi Prince, Prince Abdullah, visited the same site earlier, the Mayor was by his side even though Prince Abdullah cannot be regarded as a head of state like Mahathir.

Mahathir wants the United States to regard him as its greatest asset in the Muslim world. America is now at war against international terrorism – in short, Islamic terrorism – and it needs a leader from the Muslim world to support it in its effort. And Mahathir is offering himself as this Muslim leader.

The Muslim world is divided and has always been. The greatest danger to Israel would be Islamic unity – and the attack on Afghanistan plus the anticipated attacks on other Muslim countries may result in this much-dreaded unity.

The US needs a strong Muslim leader who can keep the Muslim countries in line – keep them divided if necessary. The OIC has never been of one mind, but recent developments have seen the Muslim countries begin to agree on some issues – and one of these issues is the attack on Muslim countries which most are against.

Mahathir tried to demonstrate how he is able to control the Muslim countries by proposing that all acts of militancy be regarded as terrorism, including the Palestinian Intifadah. Mahathir thought this would prove to America that he is its friend. But many Muslim countries opposed Mahathir’s classification of the Intifadah and his move backfired.

Some Muslim countries now regard Mahathir as a sell-out and a tool of America – exactly what he had tried to label Anwar Ibrahim as. Mahathir’s trip to the US next week, and what he says to President Bush, will determine his credibility in the Muslim world.

If Mahathir uses the opportunity of his meeting with President Bush to take the US to task on many issues, as what he has been doing all along, then the US may write him off as a non-starter. If, however, he bends over backwards to accommodate America’s views on Islamic terrorism, then he would be written-off by the Muslim world instead.

If the Muslim world isolates Mahathir on his pro-American stand, he would be totally useless to America. The US needs a Muslim leader respected by the Muslim world and who can keep the Muslim countries in line. A leader who is the pariah of the Muslim world is of no use to America.

Mahathir is treading on very thin ice here. He may have had experience walking on ice during his recent Antarctica trip. But the ice he is walking on now is too thin to take the weight of his follies.

It would be interesting to see what stand Mahathir takes in his talks with President Bush. If he presses America too hard, they will send him packing. And, if he bends too much, he will be ostracised by the Muslims and will not be able to serve America’s interest.

This may yet be the greatest test of Mahathir’s political skills – and he may be about to bite off more than he can chew on this one. But, if he can pull it off, Mahathir will not only be set to rule Malaysia for a long time to come, but he will also emerge as the greatest Muslim leader in history.

I am anxiously biting my fingernails waiting for the outcome of the crossroad in Mahathir’s political future. And I wonder which road Mahathir will take next week.

FAC News, 9 May 2002:

What will the President tell Mahathir?: John Malott

John R. Malott, the US Ambassador to Malaysia from 1995 to 1998, in his article, “Malaysia’s Ruler Comes Calling”, asked, “What then will the President say to Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, when he visits the White House on May 14?”

“Mahathir, in power since 1981, is on the black list of every major human rights group in the world,” said Malott.

“For three years running, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has named Mahathir one of the ten worst enemies of the press,” added Malott. “The State Department’s human rights report describes the erosion of judicial independence during Mahathir’s 21-year tenure.”

“Mahathir uses the Internal Security Act, which permits detention without trial for two years, not just against alleged threats to national security but also against his political opponents.”

“So what will the President tell Prime Minister Mahathir?”

“US officials admit they have not raised the “Anwar issue” or Malaysia’s other human rights abuses during recent meetings with Mahathir. We have pulled our punches for the sake of the war on terrorism.”

“So, back in Malaysia, Mahathir claims that the White House invitation means the United States has come around to his point of view. In a country whose press hews the Government line, the Malaysian people are being told that the United States now supports Malaysia’s preventive detention law and that it no longer cares about Anwar and Malaysia’s other political detainees.”

“Even though Mahathir is about to pay his first visit to the White House in six years, there is nothing to indicate that he has altered his views about America, that he will stop his incessant America-bashing, or that he will change his foreign investment policies for the benefit of the American business community.”

“Indeed, just one day after the White House visit was announced, Mahathir stood before a US business audience in Kuala Lumpur and called America an “ugly” nation.”

“It is a certainty that after he returns to Malaysia, Mahathir will stand up and bash America again. For political reasons at home and to maintain standing in the Islamic world, he will need to distance himself from any speculation that he has sold out to the United States.”

“And there will not be any change in Mahathir’s continuing crackdown on freedom and human rights.”

“For the sake of a good meeting – a short-term goal indeed – will the President forget his pledge to take the side of brave men and women who seek liberty and justice?”

“Or will he remember that over the longer term, the only way we truly can counter extremist Islamic tendencies is to support and promote freedom, democracy, and human rights around the world, including in Malaysia?”

FAC News, 14 May 2002:

Remarks by the President and Prime Minister Mahathir of Malaysia in Photo Opportunity

The Oval Office

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to the Oval Office, it’s great to see you. I’ve been looking forward to this visit to publicly thank the Prime Minister for his strong support in the war against terror.

He, right after the September the 11th attacks, immediately went and signed a condolences book in our embassy, and that meant a lot. He’s been a — somebody with whom we can talk, we’ve got good relations. We share a deep concern about terror, what terror means to our respective countries, what it means to our peoples.

Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you for your friendship and thank you for your leadership, and I want to welcome you.

THE PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for the invitation. Since we met in Shanghai, I have always wanted to follow up on what we discussed there, in particular with regard to how we handle this problem of international terrorism. And I hope that as a result of this visit we will be able to understand the strategy and maybe to work out how best to deal with this problem which plagues all the world, not just the United States. I’m quite sure that this visit will be very fruitful.

THE PRESIDENT: I think so, too. Thank you.

A couple of questions. David.

Q Mr. Prime Minister, when you met with a group of us in New York, you said that there was no evidence at that time that al Qaeda was actively — was active in Malaysia. American officials have now told us that they believe some links do exist. Has your opinion changed since then?

And, Mr. President, I’d like to know whether it’s still the position of the United States that Anwar Ibrahim has been jailed primarily for his political opposition to the Prime Minister?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, at that time we were not very certain, but we have discovered that some of these people who were active, who planned to overthrow the government by force of bombs had activity into Pakistan and eventually to Afghanistan, where they did meet with the al Qaeda people.

And they — I believe that they could overthrow the government by force of bombs in order to establish what they consider to be an Islamic state.

Q You believe they are al Qaeda?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Yes, they are. We have found evidence that they have had involvement with these people. But they’re primarily in east Malaysia.

THE PRESIDENT: What was your second part of your question?

Q The question was, Mr. President, is it still the position of the United States that Anwar Ibrahim, the former finance minister —


Q — was jailed primarily for his political opposition to the Prime Minister? Or do you believe — and do you believe he should be released?

THE PRESIDENT: Our position has not changed.

Q Mr. President —

MR. FLEISCHER: The Malaysian press.

Q Mr. President, can you tell us what you — what we can expect of future Malaysia-U.S. relations as a result of these talks that are taking place today?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think you can expect continued cooperation — intelligence sharing, for example. Let me finish, please.

One of the things that we’re finding is that our enemy is shadowy. They lurk behind civil institutions and then they strike. They — they’re not like an enemy we’ve known before. And in order to make sure our respective societies are as secure as possible, we must share intelligence. We find out a lot about movements throughout the region, and we’re more than willing to share with the Prime Minister’s government what we know. And vice versa, and that’s important. That’s incredibly important. My most important job — I remind this to the American people — is to secure our homeland.

Q Not more extensive than that —

THE PRESIDENT: There’s a lot more. We’ll talk about trade. We’ll talk about economy. There’s a lot more to talk about. But when it comes to the security of a homeland, that’s about as extensive as it gets. You see, I’m not going to let our nation forget, or our friends in the world forget what happened to us on September the 11th. It could happen to somebody else, as well, and the Prime Minister understands that.

And this is a very important visit from that respect. The — we’ll also talk about the Middle East, and I look forward to hearing from the Prime Minister on the Middle East. So we’ll have a good discussion.


Q Mr. President, former President Carter is in Cuba, about to address the Cuban people. Has his — have his remarks complicated your foreign policy? And what would you say to the Cuban people, if allowed to speak directly to them?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I — you know, I appreciate President Carter’s focus on human rights. I think that’s important in Cuba, in a place where there is no human rights.

My message — first of all, it doesn’t complicate my foreign policy because I hadn’t changed my foreign policy. And that is that Fidel Castro is a dictator and he is repressive. And he ought to have free elections. And he ought to have a free press. And he ought to free his prisoners. And he ought to encourage free enterprise.

And my message to Fidel — my message to the Cuban people is, demand freedom and you’ve got a President who stands with you. And my message to Fidel Castro is precisely what I said. I’m going to deliver that message next Monday in — here, and then I’m going to go down to Miami for Cuban Independence Day.

Last question here for —

Q Mr. President, what do you think of Dr. Mahathir’s definition of terrorism and his view that the root causes of terrorism must be addressed not through military action alone?

THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that. I think that — but, first, some of these people are nothing but cold-blooded killers, and there’s no rehabilitation program, except for bringing them to justice. I mean, there’s no way that — these people made up their minds, the leaders of these groups have decided that they’re going to come and kill. And it may be an American, it may be a Malaysian, who knows — but we’re going to stop them.

And so the best program is to use our respective militaries, intelligence gathering, cutting off money, to go after these killers.

Now, in terms of youngsters who are looking for — you know, who are searching for a future, if there’s a hopeless future there may be an opportunity to convert them into potential suiciders or potential killers. And that’s what I think we need to talk about, about how to ease hopelessness where there is no hope; I mean, to help people and to help people realize there’s a better future other than joining up with a terrorist organization whose sole intent is destruction.

That’s why education is important. Good health care initiatives are important. That’s why it’s important for, you know, people in the Middle East to feel like there is a future. It’s one of the reasons I’ve advocated a Palestinian state to be able to live side by side with Israel in peace, so that there — people realize there’s a future. And there’s a better — provide better choices for people other than suicide killing.

But in terms of the senior al Qaeda members or some of these — listen, there’s no — as I say, I want to repeat, there’s no rehabilitation program for them. There’s only one thing to do, is to get them, and we’re going to. We’re going to bring them to justice. And I will remind the Prime Minister it’s going to take a while. This is a — and we’re patient. He needs to know that the American President, our government is a very patient government. And we’re steadfast. And we’re resolved. And we’re going to hunt them down. And we look forward to continue working with him to do just that. And we’ll bring them to justice, and that’s precisely what’s going to happen to these people.

FAC News, 16 May 2002:

U.S.-Malaysia Defense Cooperation: A Solid Success Story
by the Malaysian Defense Minister, Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak

I considered titling my talk today: “Malaysia-US Defense Cooperation: The Untold Story”. The reason is that for many years US and Malaysian forces have cooperated on a wide range of missions with virtually no fanfare or public acknowledgement. And, in spite of its success, our bilateral defense relationship seems to be an all too well-kept secret. So, I very much appreciate the chance The Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) have provided for me to reveal this well-kept secret.

Before I begin, I’d like to touch briefly on our bilateral relationship as a whole–as a kind of preview to Prime Minister Mahathir’s official visit to Washington in two weeks.

Malaysian forces regularly conduct joint training with United States counterparts, and the United States routinely enjoys access to Malaysian airfields and ports. Also, Malaysia provides one of the few bases outside the United States for US military jungle-warfare training. U.S. troops are warmly welcomed in Malaysia and enjoy training there.

In particular:

1. There have been more than 75 U.S. military ship visits in the past two and a half years.

2. The United States conducts training exercises with the Royal Malaysian Air Force, flying with and against them in mock battles.

3. U.S. Navy SEALs conduct training in Malaysia twice a year.

4. The U.S. Army does field exercises with the Malaysian army. I might mention here that, for their expertise in jungle warfare, Malaysians are known in the business as “whispering death.”

5. Finally, 1,500 Malaysian defense personnel have benefited from the U.S.-sponsored IMET (international military education and training) program.

As you can see, cooperation between our two nations started long before September 11, 2001. But the horrific events of that day galvanized our relationship as never before. Prime Minster Mahathir has been vocal in condemning the attacks, and we have been happy to provide an elevated level of cooperation with the United States on the range of fronts.

For example:

1. The United States averages more than 1,000 overflights per year. Since September 11, this number has increased dramatically, and all requests have been approved.

2. The United States has excellent access to Malaysian intelligence.

3. Malaysia occupies a strategic location along the Strait of Malacca and southern South China Sea, and devotes considerable resources to maintaining safe and free shipping lanes for commercial and military vessels. Since September 11, Malaysian forces have been protecting U.S. ships in the Strait.

4. Malaysia has a considerable number of troops and military assets on our islands to thwart the threat of Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the Southern Philippines.

5. In addition, Malaysia is actively identifying assets of terrorists and teaching Indonesia and other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries how to freeze assets.

So let me close by saying once again, thank you all for giving me the chance to get some of the good news about the US -Malaysia relationship on the record. We are looking forward to the Prime Minister’s visit on May 13-15 to continue to enhance both personal and governmental relations with the United States of America.