SINGAPORE U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday Washington would continue to speak out in legal cases such as that of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, despite accusations of meddling.
Rice told a press briefing early in the morning, that the United States had long spoken out in cases deemed to be political in nature and would continue to do so.
"We are always going to speak up on human rights cases, political cases, but again we do so in a spirit of respect for Malaysia," Rice said.
Rice later met Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific security forum in Singapore.
"I pointed out just three things...to abstain from making statements with respect to the supposition that the events related to the case of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was so-called politically motivated, which I emphatically said was not the case," Rais told reporters.
"We should not have further or other statements from her officials with respect to Malaysia's rule of law set up," he said.
Anwar, a former deputy premier, faces an allegation that he engaged in a homosexual act with a former aide that could derail his political plans.
He has not been charged with sodomy -- a crime punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment in Malaysia -- but the claim mirrors events in 1998, when his political ambitions were halted by a jail term for sodomy and corruption.
On Wednesday, Malaysian Home (Interior) Minister Syed Hamid Albar met foreign diplomats in Kuala Lumpur and warned them against meddling in Malaysia's affairs.
But Rice said she did not see U.S. comments on the case as meddling.
"The United States doesn't recognize this very firm barrier, that there are certain things that are simply internal affairs when a case of this kind comes up. But we are going to continue to work with Malaysia."
She reiterated the U.S. view that transparency and rule of law must be followed in Anwar's case.
"Part of the comfort level or the confidence that states need to bring to the international system is that their judicial systems are indeed responsive to rule of law, transparent and fair."
"Even-handed application of the rule of law is very important," she added.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has said the allegation against Anwar "lacked credibility" while Anwar says he is the victim of a high-level conspiracy to thwart the opposition.
Anwar is leading a loose alliance of three opposition parties to try to seize power from the government by mid-September.
His attempt to oust the government comes at a time when the ruling National Front coalition, in power since independence from Britain in 1957, suffered its worst electoral setback in a March general election.
The political uncertainty has roiled financial markets and unnerved investors.
(Reporting by Sue Pleming and Melanie Lee)