Jakarta (AFP) Feb 18, 2009
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said Indonesia -- as a democratic and mainly Muslim country -- would play a key role in the Obama administration's new commitment to "smart power".
In her first visit to a Muslim country as secretary of state, she said the US president "wants to reach out to the entire world" and Indonesia would be an important partner in that effort.
"Certainly Indonesia, being the largest Muslim nation in the world, the third-largest democracy, will play a leading role in the promotion of that shared future," Clinton told a press conference here alongside Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda.
"Building a comprehensive partnership with Indonesia is a critical step on behalf of the United States' commitment to smart power," she said.
She added that it was important "to listen as well as talk to those around the world, to support a country that has demonstrated so clearly... that Islam, democracy and modernity cannot only coexist but thrive together."
Clinton said the US looked forward to deepening cooperation with Indonesia on several "shared issues", referring to areas such as the global economic crisis, climate change, security and human rights.
Wirajuda said Indonesia -- where Obama went to primary school from 1967 to 1971 -- looked forward to US support as Asia-Pacific countries seek to shape a "new architecture" of diplomacy in the region.
"Indonesia will be a good partner of the United States in reaching out to the Muslim world," he said.
A US official, who asked not to be named, acknowledged that "the people of Indonesia obviously have a strong affinity for this new administration" because Obama once lived here and Clinton "would like to build on that good will."
The former first lady later met leaders of the Jakarta-based Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- a 10-country bloc comprising around 500 million people.
She said the Obama administration would start the process to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which promotes regional peace and stability via cooperation in scientific, economic and other areas.
"We are taking this step because we believe that the United States must have strong relationships and a strong and productive presence here in Southeast Asia," Clinton said.
ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan welcomed Clinton's announcement as "a reaffirmation of the US's political and security commitment to the region."
Fifteen non-ASEAN members have acceded to the 1976 treaty, including countries as diverse as New Zealand, Pakistan and China.
Clinton will meet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday before completing her four-nation trip through Asia -- her first outing as secretary of state -- with visits to South Korea and China.
The son of a white American mother and a black Kenyan father, Obama was born in Hawaii but moved to Indonesia when he was six after his divorced mother remarried an Indonesian.
The US president is hugely popular here and expectations are high that he will prioritise relations with Indonesia as a possible bridge with other Islamic countries and a democratic bulwark against extremism.
He has promised a new chapter in relations with the Islamic world after the ill-will generated by former president George W. Bush's invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Indonesia has seen its share of Islamist violence since 9/11 -- including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed more than 200 people -- and has worked closely with US and Australian police to track down terror suspects.
The vast majority of Indonesian Muslims -- about 90 percent of the archipelago's 234 million people -- are moderates but a small extremist fringe continues to back "holy war" with the West.
About 50 Muslim students protested at the presidential palace earlier Wednesday, carrying banners reading "America is a rubbish civilisation" and "America is the real terrorist".
Clinton said her talks with Wirajuda covered a range of issues from the economic crisis to climate change, the threat of terrorism, nuclear proliferation and human rights violations in countries like Myanmar.
The United States and Indonesia are among the top five emitters of greenhouse gases and Clinton applauded Jakarta's efforts to "integrate deforestation into the broader climate negotiations".
Wirajuda said Indonesia "shared the joy" of Obama's election and "cannot wait too long" for him to return to the country as president of the United States.
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