WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump touted what he described as a plan by Malaysia Airlines Bhd. to spend between $10 billion and $20 billion on Boeing Co. jets and General Electric Co. engines as he opened a White House meeting with Malaysia's prime minister.
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Mr. Trump, in a public appearance with Prime Minister Najib Razak, cited the airline deal as a basis for strong ties between the two countries. Boeing said the deal involved 16 new planes. He also identified Malaysia as a strategic national-security ally in Asia, while playing down the significance of a fresh round of sanctions the United Nations Security Council approved against North Korea on Monday.
Mr. Trump also praised Malaysia as a significant investor in U.S. securities, saying American markets have been hitting records "on almost a weekly basis" during his presidency. "I congratulate you on those investments," Mr. Trump said during a brief public appearance with the Malaysian leader.
The airline deal puts the administration in the unusual position of coaxing investment from a trade partner that the U.S. is also investigating for investment fraud.
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the alleged looting of 1Malaysia Development Bhd., a Malaysian economic-development fund. The probe threatens to ensnare much of the country's ruling elite, including Mr. Najib.
Mr. Trump didn't mention the investigation during his public appearance with Mr. Najib. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Monday that the investigation was "apolitical, and certainly independent of anything taking place" during meetings involving the president.
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Instead, the two leaders' were meeting to discuss a "wide range" of regional issues and security concerns, including the halt of the Islamic State extremist group, North Korea's push for nuclear weapons, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Jonah Blank, a senior political scientist with Rand Corp., said it is unlikely the leaders discussed the investment scandal since both had ample domestic reasons for wanting a harmonious meeting.
While Mr. Trump can tout investment, Mr. Najib will use the high-profile reception at the White House to boost his stature back home. "If he is able to portray himself as a firm partner of the U.S., it can of course be used against him, but it's likely a positive," Mr. Blank said.
Mr. Najib said during the public appearance with Mr. Trump on Tuesday that he was interested in contributing to the U.S. economy. Malaysia Airlines agreed in 2016 to buy 25 Boeing 737s, with an option to buy another 25, in a deal estimated at $5.5 billion.
In an apparently new deal unveiled on Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines also will buy eight Boeing 787 Dreamliners, Mr. Najib said, a deal that would be valued at about $2.2 billion. Mr. Najib on Tuesday said the airline deals would be valued at $10 billion in five years, or more if the airline executes the option for additional planes.
Mr. Najib also said the Employees Provident Fund, a major pension fund in Malaysia, planned to invest $3 billion to $4 billion in U.S. infrastructure projects. He said additional investments were planned from Malaysia's state investor Khazanah Nasional Bhd, which he said has an office in Silicon Valley.
Boeing said in a statement Tuesday night that the company signed a memorandum of understanding with Malaysia Airlines for 16 planes -- the eight Dreamliners and eight additional 737s.
"We are delighted Malaysia Airlines continues to put its trust and confidence in Boeing," the statement quoted Boeing President and Chief Executive Kevin McAllister as saying. The statement quoted Peter Bellew, managing director and CEO of Malaysia Airlines as saying the deal built on more than 40 years of partnership between the airline and Boeing.
Mr. Najib also didn't mention the Justice Department's 1MDB probe.
He said Malaysia was committed to fighting terrorism and "will also contribute in terms of the ideological warfare because you need to win the hearts and minds," while not specifically commenting on North Korea.
Mr. Trump said Malaysia "does not do business with North Korea" any longer. "We find that to be very important," he said.
The president noted the fresh round of U.N. sanctions against North Korea, but said "those sanctions are nothing compared to what will ultimately have to happen" as reporters were escorted from the room.
While in Washington, Mr. Najib and members of his entourage were shown in a videotape by the New Straits Times, a Malaysian newspaper, visiting the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which is owned by Mr. Trump. Hotel officials declined to say whether Mr. Najib and his aides were guests at the hotel, and aides to Mr. Najib didn't return calls seeking comment.
Ms. Sanders, the White House press secretary, brushed aside questions about the prime minister's accommodations at a news briefing, saying she didn't think his patronage of the president's business was an attempt to curry favor.
--Doug Cameron and Alan Cullison contributed to this article.
Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 12, 2017 22:23 ET (02:23 GMT)