Tue, 11 Mar 2003

Half of Australia's Cabinet in RI to iron out differences

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia and Australia expressed common concern over the worsening nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula and considered measures to deal with the matter.

Visiting Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said on Monday after meeting with President Megawati Soekarnoputri that concerted efforts were needed to end the dispute.

"We mutually expressed our common concern about the situation that is progressively getting worse on the peninsula," Downer said after the meeting at the President's residence on Jl. Teuku Umar in Central Jakarta.

"The Indonesian foreign minister and I will seek ways we might be able to work together to address the problem in North Korea," he said.

Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda agreed with his counterpart's statement, saying that Australia had sent a team to Pyongyang before Indonesia dispatched special envoy Nana Sutresna to the country.

"Australia shares a common concern with us regarding the situation in North Korea. We will look for measures that we can cooperate on in addressing the problem," Hassan said.

The North Korean standoff with the United States regarding the possible development of nuclear weapons by Pyongyang could become the world's next crisis situation after Iraq.

Washington has refused to negotiate with North Korea until it has disbanded its nuclear program, a demand that Pyongyang has not bowed to.

The latest developments in the situation were joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, and the deployment of American bombers to Guam.

Indonesia has attempted to facilitate a dialog between the two sides, with Megawati offering Jakarta's services during a meeting with North Korean number two Kim Yong-nam on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Kuala Lumpur last month.

Hassan earlier said that so far the two sides had yet to see the importance of dialog, leaving Indonesia with no choice but to wait for further developments.

Downer is leading a group of seven Australian ministers to the Australia-Indonesian Ministerial Forum, slated to start on Tuesday. The forum is aimed at strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries and ironing out their differences over Iraq.

"We have made it clear that confrontation in Iraq is not confrontation against Islam, but against Iraq's failure to cooperate with the UN to disarm itself," Downer said.

He said Australia would use the forum to express its hope for cooperation with Indonesia in many fields, particularly in the economic sector.

Downer said the presence of 400 Australian companies here indicated Indonesia's importance to the Australian business community.

The two governments, he said, are ready to engage in broader economic cooperation, including in agriculture, fisheries and tourism.

Downer also conveyed the Australian government's and people's appreciation for the Indonesian authorities investigation of the Oct. 12 Bali bombings and the cooperation Jakarta has showed in curbing people smuggling.

Hassan underlined that the presence of almost half of the Australian Cabinet here for the forum signaled Canberra's intention to improve the often rocky relations between the two countries, despite their many differences.

The ministerial meeting was preceded by a meeting on Monday of senior officials from the two countries. During the meeting, officials discussed technical cooperation in 13 fields, including trade, investment, fisheries, agriculture and education.