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Sultan of Brunei flies himself to Washington, meets Obama

Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah leaves the Plenary session of the 21st ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and East Asia summits
Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah leaves the Plenary session of the 21st ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and East Asia summits

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Not everybody can say they met with the president of the United States. And hardly anybody can say they piloted their own 747 airliner halfway around the world to get to the meeting.

So it was noteworthy that the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, known for his vast oil wealth, sat down for talks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Tuesday.

"His Majesty himself has led his country for 40 years now and he's gone through nine U.S. presidents. I won't ask him which one was his favorite," quipped Obama.

In a picture-taking session after their talks and before a White House lunch, Obama said he looked forward to attending an Association of South East Asian nations summit in October and expected issues like trade, energy and climate change to come up

Brunei is a tiny Southeast Asian country nestled on the north coast of Borneo in the South China Sea. China's sovereignty claim over a large area of the South China Sea has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves. Malaysia and Brunei, also members of ASEAN, as well as Taiwan also claim parts of the sea.

"Obviously there have been a lot of tensions in the region around maritime issues and His Majesty has shown great leadership in trying to bring the countries together to make sure everybody is abiding by the basic precepts of rule of law and international standards so that conflicts can be resolved peacefully and respectfully," Obama said.

Reading from a statement, the sultan, 66, said he looked forward to welcoming Obama to the Brunei summit.

"He got here yesterday and flew in his own 747, meaning he actually piloted it himself," said Obama. "I think he's probably the only head of state who flies a 747 himself. So in case Air Force One pilots have problems, we know who to consult."

(Reporting By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton. Editing by Fred Barbash)

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