President Seeks ‘Strategic’ Ties with US

WASHINGTON ~ President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called for a strategic partnership with the United States to confront 21st century challenges, saying he found President-elect Barack Obama’s foreign policy “refreshing.”

The leader of the world’s most populous Muslim nation said such a relationship would have to be for the long term and based on “equal partnership” and “common interests” with strong people-to-people content.

Noting that Indonesia has entered into strategic partnerships with many countries such as China, Russia, India, Australia and Japan, Yudhoyono said, “A US-Indonesia strategic partnership is also possible.”

“Of course, we need to be clear about the basis and terms of such strategic partnership…brought about by a realignment of interests,” he told a forum of the US-Indonesia Society in Washington, where he was attending a financial crisis summit.

Any new strategic ties, he added, should respect Indonesia’s “independent and active foreign policy, where there is always room for both sides to disagree.”

Yudhoyono said that he had studied Obama’s foreign policy priorities, including on Iraq, fighting terrorism, energy security, partnerships and UN reforms, “and I have found his approach to be refreshing.”

Referring to Obama’s four-year childhood in Indonesia, he said the Illinois Democratic senator’s recent election victory had a “powerful impact” on Indonesians.

“He spoke our language, knew our culture, ate our food, played with Indonesian friends from various ethnic background, and through all this he experienced the inner soul of Indonesia,” Yudhoyono said.

He had brought along an album containing photos of Obama’s childhood friends, which they had asked to pass on to the new US leader.

But Yudhoyono made clear that incumbent US President George W. Bush had given a strong push to advance bilateral relations, citing the lifting of travel sanctions and an arms embargo and significant improvement of trade and investment volume.

“In all that process, President George Bush has become one of the most pro-Indonesia American presidents in the history of our bilateral relations,” he said.

“President Bush and I do not always agree, but on one particular thing we are always in agreement – that stable and strong relations between us is in the national interest of both sides.”

The leader of the biggest Southeast Asian nation said that the relationship between Indonesia and the United States was too important to be driven by sentiments.

“We are not in the business of entertaining emotions and stereotypes. We are in the business of promoting national interests (which) dictate us to work closely with one another.”

Yudhoyono appealed to Washington to push hard for the speedy realization of an independent Palestine state existing side by side with Israel in a bid to reduce tensions in the Middle East and enhance American image in the Muslim world.

Obama, he said, could attain the elusive peace deal, citing the Democratic senator’s strong electoral mandate and the appeal he commanded on the international stage that cut across cultures, race and religion.

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