Mon, 08 Nov 1999

Gus Dur unsure of meeting Clinton

By Kornelius Purba

YANGON, Myanmar (JP): President Abudurrahman Wahid may be forced to postpone his meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton this week due to the latter's tight schedule.

Abdurrahman, familiarly known as Gus Dur, said he was eager to meet with Clinton in Washington as scheduled on Thursday during his visit to the U.S. to undergo medical treatment for his impaired vision in Salt Lake City, Utah.

"There is no problem with it because my main purpose is to go to Salt Lake City to have glasses made to enable me to see again," the President said in a media briefing after meeting with Myanmar's State Peace and Development (SPDC) Senior Gen. Than Shwe at Sein-Le-Kantha State Guest House.

The President, who arrived here on Sunday morning from Kuala Lumpur for a six-hour working visit, expressed his readiness to meet with Clinton in Washington if they could arrange a convenient time. He said he wanted to brief the U.S. president on his government's plans for the economy and other sectors.

He said he wanted to convey his expectations that the Clinton administration would continue its commitment to Indonesia through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, including with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

Abdurrahman said he would await final confirmation from Clinton on Monday morning.

"If we can meet, it is good, but if we cannot do it this time, there's no problem. We can meet sometime in the future," the President said.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab, who is part of the President's delegation on a four-day tour to the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), disclosed the President would return to Jakarta on Tuesday from the Philippines and depart for Salt Lake City on Thursday.

He did not disclose if the President would continue with his plan to make a stopover in Tokyo on his way home from the U.S.

Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi is slated to visit Jakarta on Nov. 26 before attending the ASEAN informal summit in Manila two days later.

Abdurrahman announced a plan to meet with Clinton before leaving Jakarta on Saturday for a whirlwind tour of eight ASEAN countries.

He reiterated the plan again when addressing an international business forum in Singapore on Saturday.

"Our relations do not merely depend on a meeting," Abdurrahman said in reference to the uncertainty about the meeting with Clinton.

The President also failed to meet with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but he said a meeting would not have exerted significant impact on her struggle.

The President said he told his hosts during their bilateral talks that he would meet with Suu Kyi only with the approval of Myanmar's leaders.

The President said he respected both Suu Kyi and Than Shwe and he would not interfere in Myanmar's domestic affairs. He emphasized that Indonesia respected country's choice of a political system.

"I did intend to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi but, as I had said before, that all depended on Myanmar's government."

He reiterated his commitment to strengthen democracy and openness in Indonesia, but quickly added that his government would never try to impose the same spirit on other countries, including ASEAN members.

"Indonesia will not impose its own choices on other people," he said.

Hundreds of students from elementary to senior high schools lined the highway from Yangon International Airport to the State Guest House to welcome President Abdurrahman and his entourage.

They waved the national flags of the two countries and some sang Indonesian songs. They did the same when Abdurrahman and his delegation returned to the airport.

"This was a copy of welcoming ceremonies for foreign state guests in our country in the 1970s," commented an Indonesian official.

Some Indonesian officials privately expressed their annoyance at the delegation's reception in Malaysia.

They were miffed at the New Sunday Times daily's headline about Malaysia's commitment of about US$200 million in a rice loan to Indonesia.

Citing the statement of Malaysian foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar, the daily's headline read: Gus Dur requests another RM760 million.

"It is not a problem, why should we make a fuss out of it," the President said about the report.

Alwi added that Indonesians should accept the reality that their country was poor.

Abdurrahman said he agreed to a request for a meeting from leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) during his visit to Kuala Lumpur. He said they did not turn up for the meeting.

Meanwhile, the President met with Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai in Bangkok to discuss bilateral matters and preparations for the ASEAN summit.

On Monday morning, the President and his entourage will depart for Vientiane to meet with Laotian President Khamtay Siphandone. After the six-hour visit, he will fly to Cambodia for a one-night stay.

He is scheduled to meet King Norodom Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

He will depart for Hanoi on Tuesday to meet President Tran Duc Luong and Prime Minister Van Khai. In the afternoon he will embark for Manila where he is scheduled to meet President Joseph Estrada. He will return home the same day.