Suharto Rejects F-16s, Criticizes Congress
No Meddling! Jakarta sends Washington a sharp defence-linked
There are two things President Suharto detests more than anything: critics questioning his administration's legitimacy and outsiders interfering in Indonesia's internal affairs. The Australians had a taste of Suharto's ire in the mid-1980s. The Dutch discovered it five years ago. Now the United States is getting the message too.
In a decision aimed at pre-empting Indonesia's critics in the U.S. Congress, Foreign Minister Ali Alatas announced on June 7 that Suharto was cancelling Indonesian participation in American military-training programmes, as well as the planned purchase of nine American-made F-16 fighters. Suharto's letter to President Bill Clinton indicated that his decision was motivated in part by the "wholly unjustified criticism" of Indonesia in Congress.
The move was reminiscent of action Indonesia took in 1992 when it rejected all future aid from the Netherlands, saying assistance was being used as a "tool of pressure" in the aftermath of the November 1991 massacre in Dili, capital of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor.
But the implications in the latest case could be far more serious than before. Criticism of Indonesia's human-rights record is growing in the U.S. Congress, and Washington's military ties to Jakarta have been coming under increasing criticism.
Publicly, Indonesia says its latest moves get rid of irritants harmful to the bilateral relationship. Instead, it may be heading for more criticism. On June 10, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a motion condemning human-rights abuses in East Timor. Now, Congress is likely to switch its focus to a review of Indonesia's trade privileges, which are worth around $700 million a year. The game's not over, says one senior Western diplomat, adding: "Just because they take some things off the table, it won't end there."
U.S.-Indonesian defence ties have been through storms before. The military-training programme-known as the International Military Education and Training scheme, or Imet-was suspended in the wake of the Dili massacre. When it was restored in the 1995-96 budget, combat-related courses were excluded. The U.S. had put the planned F-16 sale-a deal worth more than $80 million -on hold following last year's government-engineered removal of Indonesian Democratic Party leader Megawati Sukarnoputri.
American officials now say they're unclear what impact Indonesia's move will have on joint exercises, maintenance contracts and even ship calls between the two countries. Also up in the air are the regular visits by the Okinawa-based Green Berets, who have been providing specialized training to Kopassus, Indonesia's elite special-forces regiment (1).
In the three years Imet was on hold, Indonesia paid for about 30 officers to undergo military courses in the U.S. This arrangement will presumably continue -at substantial cost to the Indonesians.
But Indonesia is turning away from the U.S. for its military hardware. As part of a broad expansion programme, Kopassus is building an aviation battalion, which was originally to have been made up of rebuilt American UH-1H helicopters. Significantly, only a day before the decision to cancel the F-16s, Indonesia revealed plans to buy 12 Russian Mi-8 troop-carrying helicopters instead of the American UH-1H craft. Retired Gen. Riyanto, a special assistant to Development Planning Minister Ginandjar Kartasasmita, was in Moscow in early June looking into the purchase of the helicopters, and also possibly MiG-29s or longer-range Su-27 strike aircraft (2).
Officials on both sides say the Indonesian decision had been percolating for some time. The Americans, who had spent 18 months convincing the Indonesians to buy the cut- price F-16s, got their first inkling that the sale was unravelling as far back as March. But they only heard word about the Imet decision in early May.
Although Suharto's letter was dated May 26, another week went by before it was delivered. During that time, the U.S. State Department issued a stinging rebuke a day after Indonesia's May 29 parliamentary elections, claiming that Indonesians had been deprived of the ability "to change their government through democratic means." Alatas ascribed the time lag in sending the letter to "technical" reasons. But if Suharto had any last-minute misgivings, they probably disappeared with the State Department's broadside.
Alatas already has his hands full with critics such as Democratic Congressman and East Timor critic Patrick Kennedy, as well as a range of Republicans who hold the view that Indonesian tycoon James Riady sought to use campaign contributions to influence Clinton administration policies. Indeed, many American policy veterans are concerned that domestic politics is playing an increasingly prominent role in the shaping of U.S. foreign policy -a perception reinforced by the fact that eight months after he began his second term, Clinton still doesn't have an assistant secretary of state to handle an increasingly assertive East Asia.
RI FOREGOES PARTICIPATION IN IMET AND PLANNED PURCHASE OF F-16s Source: Antara Date: June 6, 1997 Jakarta -- Indonesia said it is dropping the planned purchase of nine US F-16 warplanes because of what it calls "wholly unjustified criticism in the United States Congress against Indonesia".
Foreign Minister Ali Alatas told a press conference here Friday that Indonesia also decided to forego its participation in the Extended International Military Education and Training (E-IMET) program offered by the US government.
Alatas said the decision was conveyed in a letter from President Soeharto to President Bill Clinton dated May 26 but only sent on June 2 due to technical reasons.
In the letter, President Soeharto stressed that the decision was taken to remove any possible stumbling block that could come in the way of efforts by both countries to expand and enhance their relationship or which could cause difficulties to the Clinton administration.
Alatas said Soeharto appreciates Clinton for his efforts to maintain Indonesia's participation in the IMET program, especially in the light of the serious budgetary challenges faced by the US.
With the linkage removed between criticism against Indonesia and its participation in the IMET and the planned purchase of the F-16s, President Soeharto expressed confidence that "the relationship between the United States and Indonesia would move forward to a new and even sounder level of cooperation based on mutual respect, mutual benefit and non-interference in each other's domestic affairs".
In the letter, the president welcomed the increasingly close and multifaceted relationship between the two peoples and countries.
Some US congressmen and senators have lately intensified their criticisms of Indonesia, particularly regarding what they call human rights violations. They asked the US administration to bar Indonesia from participating in the IMET Program and not to sell the country F-16 fighter planes.
"We don't want those planes in the first place, and we don't want the IMET as well, which is a US$ 2.5 million program - not much and not important anyway," said Alatas.
Indonesia has other alternatives for military trainings and the purchase of warplanes from other countries, he said.
Alatas hoped that the Indonesian government's decision will benefit both sides.
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