Opening the first visit to Malaysia by a U.S. president in nearly half a century, Barack Obama looked ahead Saturday to economic and security talks with Prime Minister Najib Razak, who leads a southeast Asian nation with an important role in efforts to forge deeper relations with Asia.

Stepping off his plane and onto a red carpet at the Royal Malaysian Air Base, Mr. Obama was whisked by limousine to Kuala Lumpur’s Parliament Square, where canon salutes rang out as Malaysia’s king and prime minister greeted Mr. Obama under muggy skies. A military band played the U.S. and Malaysian national anthems twice and Obama inspected an elaborate honor guard in crisp green and white before the arrival ceremony came to a close.

Mr. Obama’s next stop was the Istana Negara, the National Palace, for an audience with Malaysia’s royal family before he takes his seat on later Saturday at a state dinner being held in his honour.

During the two—day visit, which follows stops in Japan and South Korea, Mr. Obama will also meet with citizen leaders and hold a town hall—style forum with young leaders from across the region. But Obama rejected calls from human rights groups to meet with a prominent opposition leader while in Malaysia.

Ben Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said relations between the U.S. and Malaysia have blossomed in recent years and that the country has become a “pivotal state” in the Obama administration’s push to strengthen ties throughout the fast—growing and strategically important region.

Trade, defense and maritime security are among the issues Mr. Obama and Mr. Najib were expected to discuss during talks scheduled for Sunday.

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