Subject: Pentagon Seeks Stronger Defence Ties with Indonesia [3 Reports]

also: Gates Seeks Closer Ties With Indonesia; US Defence Chief in Indonesia Talks on Military Ties

Pentagon seeks stronger defence ties with Indonesia

By Kristin Roberts

JAKARTA, Feb 25 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates landed in Jakarta on Monday, aiming to strengthen military ties with a country the Pentagon sees as a regional leader and secular model for Muslim states.

Gates will meet with Indonesia's president and defence minister to assess their equipment and military training needs. They also will discuss, but not sign, a statement of principles on defence cooperation similar to agreements Indonesia has with China and Australia, said U.S. officials travelling with Gates.

"Indonesia is a huge Islamic country, democratic, secular, and I think strengthening our relationship with Indonesia is very important, not just in a regional context but I think in terms of the role that Indonesia may be able to play more broadly," Gates said ahead of the visit.

Gates' focus on offering support for Indonesia's ongoing defence and national security reforms reflects the Pentagon's desire to broaden the relationship and move beyond Washington's prior focus on Indonesia as a potential terrorist flashpoint after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim-majority country. But it is considered by experts inside the Pentagon as strongly secular.

Still, Indonesia has struggled to combat Islamic militant groups, particularly Jemaah Islamiah, a regional militant network blamed for a series of bombings in Indonesia and linked to the 2002 Bali bombings.

Those attacks, coupled with the intense focus by Washington on counter-terrorism after Sept. 11, relegated Indonesia for years into the group of countries of concern among security experts.

U.S. defence officials, however, now argue Indonesia must be viewed more broadly.

"To see this as a single-issue relationship is to completely miss the point of Indonesia's place, not just in U.S. relations but also in southeast Asia," said one U.S. defence official with Gates.

They say Indonesian security has dealt effectively with its Islamic militant threat and that Indonesia, with proper U.S. support, military training and equipment assistance, could serve as a "foundation" for southeast Asian security.

"The secretary has no difficulty seeing that Indonesia is not just the biggest southeast Asian country but it is the benchmark or foundation country for southeast Asian stability," another defence official said.

The threat from Islamic militants, however, remains real for Indonesia, according to security experts. U.S. officials say they continue to see ties between Jemaah Islamiah and al Qaeda.

Gates said those contacts were there but that he had seen no evidence in recent months that Jemaah Islamiah had strengthened.

"I don't have any sense from the last few weeks or months that there's been a significant increase in those contacts or a particular strengthening of the JI," he said.


Gates Seeks Closer Ties With Indonesia

By LOLITA C. BALDOR Associated Press Writer

JAKARTA, Feb 25 (AP) - The United States is working to broaden its ties with Indonesia as the island nation emerges as a leader in the Asia-Pacific region, U.S. officials said Monday as Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived here.

"Indonesia is a huge Islamic country, democratic, secular, and I think strengthening our relationship with Indonesia is very important, not just in a regional context but I think in terms of the role that Indonesia may be able to play more broadly," Gates told reporters Sunday as he prepared to travel from Australia to Jakarta.

After 13 years of estrangement, the United States has been trying to improve military relations with Indonesia, which can play a key role in a region dominated by worries about North Korea's nuclear ambitions and China's military buildup.

Senior defense officials traveling with Gates said Monday that lingering suspicions of Indonesia's connections to terrorist networks do not reflect significant changes in recent years.

This is not, said one senior official, "your father's Indonesia" that was known primarily for its Jemaah Islamiyah terror network, military dominance in government affairs and human rights abuses.

Instead, there will be efforts to allay Jakarta's concerns that the U.S. could again pull back, risking future military sales.

And they said Gates is looking to acknowledge Indonesia's leadership role in the region, and discuss possible increased military sales to Jakarta. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of Gates' meetings with Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Asked about terror links, Gates acknowledged that Indonesia-based terrorists may maintain their contacts with al-Qaida.

"I assume that those contacts have been maintained but I don't have any sense from the last few weeks or months that there's been a significant increase in those contacts or a particular strengthening of the JI," he said, referring to the Jemaah Islamiyah network.

Just last week, an Indonesian terror suspect -- a member of the JI -- and two Filipinos were arrested during a raid on their hideout in the southern Philippines.

The U.S. cut all military ties with Indonesia in 1992, after its army and militia proxies devastated East Timor during its break from Jakarta.

In 2005, the U.S. began to aggressively rebuild relations, but just a year later, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld got a somewhat frosty welcome to Jakarta. During Rumsfeld's visit, Sudarsono lectured him, saying the U.S. needs to counter perceptions that it is overbearing and let other countries decide how best they should fight terrorism within their own borders.

One topic of Gates' talks will be Indonesia's efforts to modernize its military, including its desire to purchase military airplanes. Jakarta's fleet of 22 C-130 aircraft is aging and in need of refurbishment, and government officials have long sought to purchase replacement parts.

During the 13-year break between the two countries, the U.S. was prohibited from such sales, but those restrictions were lifted in late 2005.

Gates is visiting five countries during an eight-day tour, and will make stops later this week in India and Turkey.


US Defence Chief in Indonesia Talks on Military Ties

JAKARTA, Feb 25 (AFP) -- US Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Indonesia Monday to discuss potential sales of military aircraft and deeper military ties, despite wariness on the part of both US lawmakers and Jakarta.

Gates is expected to press for expanded exchanges and training to solidify military ties that were renewed in 2005 after a 13-year break prompted by Indonesia's bloody crackdown on pro-independence protesters in East Timor.

The Pentagon is also interested in selling Indonesia more F-16 fighter aircraft, C-130 transport planes and helicopters as well as spare parts for its existing US-made aircraft, US defence officials said.

Gates was scheduled to meet with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono, and to speak to the Indonesian Council on World Affairs during the one-day visit.

Senior US defence officials cite Indonesia's strategic importance in Southeast Asia and its political weight as the world's most populous Muslim state as key reasons for seeking closer military relations.

But the officials said that despite full normalisation in 2005, military relations are still restrained by "a perceptual lag" in the US Congress and among Indonesians as well.

The perception in Congress of the Indonesian military "is largely, although not entirely, of the pre-reform Indonesian military. They don't really appreciate how much progress they've made," one official said.

Vetting of the human rights records of Indonesian military officers going to the United States for military training, as required under US law, has been one irritant, the official said.

US lawmakers, or their staff, "are always trying to put limits on the areas in which we can engage the Indonesians on," the official said.

US officials argue that the Indonesian military is undergoing major reforms, pulling back from involvement in politics and moving to a more transparent budget instead of relying on military enterprises as a source of off-line revenues.

The Indonesians, on the other hand, "are suspicious also that we're the old United States, ready to pull the plug on them," the official said.

"The secretary is ideally situated in this trip to dispel the Indonesian perception gap, while pushing forward on the real engagement part," he said.

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