US Defense Chief Vows Support for Military Sales to Indonesia

Robert Gates & SBYJAKARTA ~ US Defense Secretary Robert Gates pledged strong US support this week for military sales to Indonesia and its emergence as a democratic regional power with global reach.

Gates singled out military transport planes and maritime systems in his meetings with Indonesian leaders.

But US defense officials said there was also interest in selling more F-16 fighters, helicopters and C-130 aircraft to the country.

At a news conference after meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday, Gates acknowledged that US laws and bureaucratic hurdles have delayed sales of parts for Indonesia’s F-16 fighters and C-130 transport planes.

“We really have problems with the administration of our foreign military sales in an efficient and prompt manner. We are working on this with the State Department to try to simplify the bureaucracy,” he said.

“One of the last things I said to the president in our meeting is that we would work with them to help facilitate whatever procurement or upgrade or refurbishment Indonesia wishes to do.”

In a speech to a foreign policy group, Gates emphasized that the United States wanted to foster a more multilateral approach to security in Asia and was focused on helping countries strengthen their own defences.

“We regard the development of the Indonesian armed forces as both a key component of our relationship going forward, and as a vital aspect of Indonesia’s emergence as a prosperous and stable democracy with global reach,” he told the event, organized by the Indonesian Council on Foreign Affairs.

“We support your nation taking on more global responsibilities in the future, and we are committed to helping accelerate this process wherever we can.”

He said the United States was prepared to help continued reform of the Indonesian military – which played a key role in politics under former president Suharto – as well as helping the country acquire defense capabilities, “especially in the airlift and maritime domains.”

Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono earlier told reporters, “Every country has its love-hate relationship with the United States.”

He said its economic, technological and media presence was “so vast that it just tended to be perceived as intrusive and unilateral.

Gates alluded to those sentiments in his speech, saying the US had made its share of mistakes and “been arrogant in dealing with others.”

“In the end, we have always realized that our own democracy’s strength ultimately depends on the strength and independence of other democracies around the world – including new ones such as Indonesia,” he said.

US military ties with the Indonesian military were largely severed after its bloody crackdown on pro-independence demonstrators in East Timor in 1991, and only fully restored in 2005.

US 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 military relations were still restrained by “a perceptual lag” in the US Congress and among Indonesians.

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 US for training, as required under US law, has been one irritant, the official said.

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.

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