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Gates Recaps Discussions with Indonesian Leaders

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia, July 22, 2010 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said discussion of “broadening, deepening and elevating ties” between the United States and Indonesia highlighted meetings he had here today with the country’s president and defense minister. Video

Gates met with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro shortly after arriving here from Seoul, South Korea.

“We discussed a broad range of bilateral, regional and global issues,” the secretary told Indonesian and American reporters after the meetings. “Our nations share a large number of interests, and we spent some time talking about those and how we can work together to address our common security challenges.”

In addition to sharing views on international disputes involving the South China Sea, Gates said, he and the Indonesian leaders talked about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ expanded meeting scheduled for October in Hanoi, Vietnam. Vietnamese officials invited Gates to attend the October meeting during last month’s “Shangri-La Dialogue” Asian security conference in Singapore.

In the bilateral relationship arena, Gates said, discussions included programs in maritime security cooperation and humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and peacekeeping operations.

“These are areas where the government of Indonesia has clearly defined a role for the Indonesian armed forces, and we are already cooperating closely in these areas,” he said. “Minister Purnomo and I were able to discuss where we could increase and improve this cooperation so that Indonesia can expand its leadership in the region and globally.”

For example, the secretary said, Indonesia has vast experience in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, and the United States is committed to improving the Indonesian armed forces’ related mobility and airlift capabilities. In fact, he said, an Indonesian C-130 transport plane is getting a complete overhaul at a U.S. military maintenance depot in Oklahoma City.

Indonesia sits astride or along key sea lanes of transportation and commerce between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, Gates noted, so it also has an important role in maritime security.

“We discussed how we could support each other in terms of providing for better security and surveillance of Indonesia’s waters and exclusive economic zone,” he said. “I would also note that Indonesia is one of the largest contributors to United Nations peacekeeping operations, and has a significant deployment in Lebanon right now.”

Defense reform and professionalization of Indonesia’s armed forces also figured prominently in today’s discussions, Gates said, noting that important military reforms have taken place over the last decade since the fall of former Indonesian President Suharto.

“Most recently,” the secretary said, “the ministry of defense has publicly pledged to protect human rights and advance human rights accountability and committed to suspend from active duty military officials credibly accused of human rights abuses, remove from military service any member convicted of such abuses, and cooperate with the prosecution of members of the military who have violated human rights.”

As a result of those steps and other Indonesian military reforms, Gates said, the United States will begin “a measured and gradual program of security cooperation activities” with Kopassus, the Indonesian army’s special forces unit, within the limits of U.S. law. The process, he added, could begin with staff-level discussions “to build common understanding of how each of us operates and trains.”

“Subsequently,” the secretary continued, “the cooperation could include such activities as participation in select conferences and events involving nonlethal subjects such as rule of law, human rights and the military decision-making process.”

Gates said he noted to the president and the defense minister that these initial steps don’t signal a lessening of the importance the United States places on human rights and accountability, and that expansion of cooperation will be based on continued implementation of reform in Indonesia’s armed forces, and he rejected the notion that the United States is dictating to Indonesia.

“A lot of the initiative for the improvement in human rights here in Indonesia has come from within Indonesia and from within the Indonesian government,” Gates said, “and I would say that President Yudhoyono has played an important part in these reforms. All over the world, we make known our interest in human rights, but what is required for action is the initiative and the will of governments around the world to legislate these reforms and to implement them.

“So this isn’t something the United States dictates,” he added. “This is something that comes from within, and it is, I think, a measure of the extraordinary progress here in Indonesia over the past 10 or a dozen years.”

Gates said the question of engaging with nations that have spotty human rights records boils down to how best to further advance human rights.

“My view is that, particularly if people are making an effort to make progress, recognizing that effort and working with them further will produce greater gains in human rights for people than simply standing back and shouting at people,” the secretary said. “There are expectations that we have. … We laid out a path [for re-engaging with Kopassus] early in the year of what it would take. The commitments that I described … have been undertaken. They are fulfilling those commitments. We anticipate they will continue to fulfill them.

“We think this is a pathway to greater human rights,” he continued, “rather than a lessening of interest or priorities.”

Gates said the visit has shown him how far the relationship between the United States and Indonesia has come.

“What has struck me during this visit is that this is no longer a relationship that is focused on how the United States can assist Indonesia,” he said. “It is a relationship that is built on how two countries can assist the region and the world. As Indonesia takes on even greater roles in providing leadership in the region and beyond, this becomes an even more important relationship for the United States, and our bilateral relationship becomes even more important to effectively addressing broader regional and global issues.”


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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
Special Report: Travels With Gates
State Department Background Notes on Indonesia

Related Articles:
Photo Essay: Gates Meets with Indonesian Leaders


Article is closed to new comments.

The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

7/22/2010 5:41:52 PM
"Gates said he noted to the president and the defense minister that these initial steps don’t signal a lessening of the importance the United States places on human rights and accountability..." How can resuming links with Kopassus co-exist with a U.S. commitment to accountability, when Indonesia maintains a culture of impunity in respect of, for example, massacres in East Timor by Kopassus forces led by (now politician) Prabowo Subianto? I support the principled position taken by Congressman Patrick Leahy and the dozen others who in May this year stressed the need for the Indonesian military to hold “senior officers accountable for past abuses.” Prudently skeptical observers will suspect that this policy 'back-flip' by the U.S. is a response to increased influence in SE Asia by China.
- Mark, Australia

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