your connection to The Boston Globe

Indonesia warns US on antiterror interference

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia's defense minister yesterday warned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Asia's Muslims increasingly believe the United States is trying to use its economic and military power to dictate terms for carrying out the war on terror, a perception that risks alienating the countries the Bush administration needs as allies.

In unusually blunt language following an hourlong meeting here with Rumsfeld, Juwono Sudarsono said some Muslim nations see the US as a threat to global stability, and suggested the Bush administration should allow national governments to come up with their own strategies to deal with Islamist extremism.

``The sun never sets on the back of an American GI," Sudarsono said, noting the $12 trillion US economy allows it to be ubiquitous around the globe.

``It's best that you leave the main responsibility of anti terrorist measures to the local government in question and not be overly insistent about immediate results arising from your perception about terrorists."

The admonishment comes amid a delicate and occasionally halting attempt by the Bush administration to draw closer to Indonesia, the world's largest-population Muslim nation. The United States , and particularly the Pentagon, has been assiduously courting Indonesia and its democratic government with hopes that this secular country could serve as a bulwark against radical Islam in the region.

Rumsfeld continued to press that effort yesterday during a short visit to the archipelago's capital, vowing to resume delivery of spare military parts and increase training of the country's armed forces, programs that were barred until last year following the Indonesian military 's harsh treatment of civilians in East Timor a decade ago.

But continued popular unease about the US-led war in Iraq has made it difficult for the government of Indonesian President Susilo Yudhoyono to fully embrace American overtures.

Sudarsono, for example, continued his country's standoffish approach to President Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative, a maritime interdiction coalition that agrees to share information on potential trafficking of unconventional weapons material on the high seas.

Senior US officials traveling with Rumsfeld said they explained to Indonesian leaders that the initiative is merely an agreement of principles, rather than a binding alliance. But Sudarsono said Jakarta remained concerned the program, which Indonesian officials promised to study, violated his nation's sovereignty. The country's coastal waters remain one of the most heavily traveled seas for illegal weapons traffickers.

Indonesian officials also responded cautiously to Rumsfeld's promise to deliver spare military parts for the country's hobbled cargo aircraft fleet and aging F-16 fighters. The United States did not sell the country parts during the decade-long ban on military trade.

The ban was only lifted last year and must be approved annually by Congress, where some members remain concerned that Indonesian officials involved in atrocities in East Timor have not been brought to justice. Rumsfeld acknowledged Congress might yet reimpose the ban, and Sudarsono said Indonesia would continue to purchase Russian-made fighters as a hedge.

Despite the wariness, the Pentagon's efforts to secure closer defense relations has been helped by wide-ranging and high-profile US military assistance during the 2004 tsunami and last month's devastating earthquake in central Java. Those efforts improved American standing throughout the country.

The shift in attitudes was most apparent during Rumsfeld's stop at Jakarta's National Archives Building, an 18th-century Dutch colonial estate recently restored as a museum and cultural center. The center's director, Tamalia Alisjahbana , showed Rumsfeld a display illustrating historical ties between the two countries, and then emotionally thanked the defense secretary for US assistance during the two recent disasters.

``We know what country came first and brought the most," Alisjahbana said. ``Something has changed (in Indonesian perceptions). Mr. Rumsfeld, on behalf of the Indonesian people, please accept our love."

During the three-country swing through the region, which comes to an end today as Rumsfeld departs for a NATO meeting in Brussels, he has acknowledged his concern over growing anti-American sentiment among Asian Muslims. However, he has urged government leaders to help shape public opinion.

Indonesia has been one of the major victims of Islamist terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks on the US. The 2002 bombing of a club on the resort island of Bali killed 202 people, mainly Australian tourists.

American officials have been heartened by Yudhoyono's pursuit of Jemaah Islami y ah, the Al Qaeda-linked militant group behind the Bali bombing.

A senior US military official involved in yesterday's talks said the Pentagon remained optimistic t he new government, elected less than two years ago, could emerge as a strong moderating influence in the Muslim world.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives