President George W. Bush said that his administration supported the resumption of full military ties between the United States and Indonesia, saying that such relations “would be in the interest of both countries.”
Bush said the resumption in February of a US military training programme for Indonesian military officers was an important step.
“It makes sense. We want young officers from Indonesia coming to the United States. We want there to be exchanges between our military corps, that will help lead to better understanding,” he said in a brief press conference at the White House on Wednesday afternoon (Thursday in Jakarta), after a meeting with visiting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
“The President (Susilo) told me that he is in the process of reforming the military and I believe him. So this is the first step toward what would be full military-to-military cooperation,” Bush said.
Susilo, meanwhile, said his government appreciated the resumption of the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme, and hoped that relations between the two countries’ militaries would be fully resumed in the near future.
“Actually, conditions are positive, (but) on the part of Indonesia, we have to continue with our reform (programmes) and do many things for the resumption of military-to-military relations,” said Susilo, who arrived late on Tuesday for a four-day working visit in a bid to boost relations between the countries in various areas.
But despite the positive remarks, it remains unclear as to when full military ties will be reestablished amid lingering opposition from activists and some US congressmen over concerns of slow progress by the Indonesian government in addressing human rights abuses by the military.
Another crucial issue that has to be resolved by the government is the shooting incident in 2002 in Timika, Papua, in which two Americans and one Indonesian were killed.
In a joint statement issued by the White House, Susilo pledged that he would intensify efforts “to ensure that the suspect indicted by a US Federal Court for the 2002 Timika killings is apprehended and that all those responsible for these crimes are brought to justice.”
He made the same pledge when meeting with Patsy Spiers, a widow of one of the Americans killed in the incident, during a meeting earlier in the day.
The US restricted military aid for Indonesia in the early 1990s due to gross human rights abuses in the country.
Congress suspended all forms of military relations following the killings of East Timorese in 1999 by militiamen, allegedly backed by the Indonesian military, during and after a UN-sponsored ballot that led to the independence of East Timor.
But after the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami that ravaged Aceh, military ties between the two countries started to improve, paving the way for the US military to carry out humanitarian relief work in the province.
The election of reform-minded Susilo as the country’s sixth president was also deemed a positive development.
The IMET programme was resumed after US State Secretary Condoleeza Rice declared that the Indonesian government had been cooperative in the investigation into the Timika incident.
Analysts have said that reviving full military ties with Indonesia was also in the interest of the US government as the world’s largest Muslim country could play a strategic role in the US-led war against terrorism.
Elsewhere in the joint statement, Bush said that his administration would support Susilo’s reform programmes, which aims, among other things, to improve the investment climate and boost economic growth.
He also reaffirmed US commitment to continue assisting Indonesia in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Aceh.
He announced that “Indonesia would receive US$400 million of the total US$857 million earmarked by the US government for earthquake and tsunami relief and reconstruction”, the statement said.
In his speech during a dinner with US and Indonesian business executives, Susilo said the situation in Indonesia had started to change from when the country was plagued with various problems ranging from financial and political crises to the threat of terrorism.
In an apparent attempt to lure new investment into the country, Susilo described Indonesia’s present picture as a country whose people have courage, compassion and solidarity as reflected in the humanitarian work carried out in Aceh.
He also said that Indonesia was a vibrant democratic country, following the 2004 general election, where the people elected their president directly.
Susilo added that Indonesia was carrying out tough reform programmes that included eradicating corruption, and that the country was no longer inward-looking as it sought to play a greater role in “shaping regional and international order.”