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President Barack Obama is opening the first visit to Malaysia by an American president in nearly half a century, underlining the important role that Southeast Asia plays in the president’s efforts to forge deeper ties to the Asia-Pacific region. Excited by the occasion, Obama’s hosts are treating him to a truly royal welcome. Obama was taken to the Istana Negara, the National Palace, where he was the honored guest at a 600-person state dinner in a banquet hall inside the king’s massive, gilded residence. During a brief toast, Obama expressed his deep gratitude to the Malaysian people for including some of his late mother’s artwork in a museum exhibit two years ago. He also spoke of Lyndon B. Johnson, the last American president to visit Malaysia.

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