US-Indonesia Military Deal Uncertain Ahead of Obama Visit

WASHINGTON

THE UNITED STATES said Monday it could not predict when it would resume full military ties with Indonesia, as it laid out the details of President Barack Obama’s trip to Jakarta and Bali next week.

Obama spent four years as a boy in Indonesia with his late mother, but the trip is more geared to business, focusing on trade, security and diplomacy rather than his biography or his childhood haunts.

In the run-up to the visit, the administration has been preparing the way to resume training an elite Indonesian military unit as part of growing counter-insurgency and intelligence cooperation with Jakarta.

But the move would be controversial as the Kopassus unit is implicated in past human rights abuses, including in East Timor, and some key players in Congress oppose embracing the force before it has accounted for past behaviour.

It remains unclear whether the dispute over Kopassus will be resolved in time for Obama’s visit, which begins on March 23.

Officers from Kopassus were in Washington only last week in a bid to secure resumed US support for the unit, which was cut off in 1997.

“It would be good if we could move to full cooperation, fuller cooperation to include the special forces, the counterterrorism capabilities within the special forces of Kopassus,” said Jeffrey Bader, Obama’s senior director for Asian affairs, briefing reporters on Obama’s trip.

“There is a certain history that needs to be overcome. There were human rights violations in the 1990s in former East Timor.

“We hope to be able at some point to move past and resolve those concerns (but) I can’t predict at this point when that day might arrive.”

US officials have been complimentary on the growing security cooperation between Washington and Jakarta.

Last week, Indonesia confirmed that a major suspect of the 2002 Bali bombing, known as Dulmatin, an Al-Qaeda-trained bomb specialist with a US$10-million bounty on his head, has been killed by police.

Obama will arrive in Jakarta on Tuesday, March 23, and have a meeting and a press conference with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, before being honoured at a state dinner.

The next day, Obama is likely to make his most expressive reference to his childhood years in Indonesia, in a major speech also intended to build on his address to the Muslim world in Cairo last June.

“He’ll be able to speak to some of the progress that’s been made and that needs to be made on the issues that he spoke to in Cairo,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.

Obama will then meet with local business leaders and make some so-far-unspecified stops, but the White House has already said he will not visit the school he once attended in Jakarta, or the house where he lived.

The president will then head to Bali, where he will hold an event with civil society groups to showcase Indonesia’s democratic progress in recent years, before heading to Canberra, Australia.

Obama’s departure for Indonesia, which US officials see as an increasingly important player in East Asia, was delayed by three days until Sunday, March 21, allowing him to remain in Washington for the endgame of his health reform drive.

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