President Barack Obama has started the first visit by a US president in nearly half a century to Malaysia, the third stop on his week-long trip through Asia.

Stepping off his plane and onto a red carpet at an airbase near Kuala Lumpur, the capital, Obama was met by an honour guard in crisp white uniforms.

Malaysia's foreign minister and top envoys to the US were on hand to greet Obama before he boarded his limousine for the drive to Parliament Square, the AP news agency reported.

During the two-day visit, Obama will meet with Prime Minister Najib Razak and be honoured at a state dinner at the National Palace. He also plans to hold a town hall-style forum with young people.

Obama's long-awaited visit to Malaysia had been scheduled for last autumn, but was postponed because of a US government shutdown.

His arrival comes as Malaysia has attracted international attention over the March 8 disappearance of a commercial airliner with 239 people on board.

Officials were preparing to widen the search area in a remote part of the ocean as Obama was arriving in Malaysia.

The airbase where Air Force One landed has been used as a staging ground for some of the recovery operations for the missing plane.

Lyndon B Johnson was the last US president to visit Malaysia in October 1966.

Source: Agencies