Mon, 08 Nov 1999

Indonesia-Israel ties discussed by Arab envoys

JAKARTA (JP): Sixteen Middle Eastern and North African envoys met on Friday with Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab to discuss Jakarta's decision to open trade ties with Israel.

"The envoys have asked the government to send the minister or a delegation to travel to the Middle East explaining the foreign policy of the country," Alwi said after the almost two hour-long meeting with the Jakarta-based ambassadors.

The minister said he approved the idea and would discuss the matter with President Abdurrahman Wahid.

Spokesman for the envoys, Palestinian Ambassador Ribhi Y. Awad, said the envoys had a frank discussion with Alwi on the circumstances of Indonesia's decision to open trade ties with the Jewish state.

"All of the council understood all of his explanations and stipulations," he said.

Although Indonesia has some informal contacts with Israel, relations between the two countries are a sensitive issue.

Soon after his election, President Abdurrahman said he wished to open trade ties with Israel, arguing that even some Arab countries have ties with Israel.

The President and the minister of foreign affairs have subsequently been placating critics that the new level of engagement is not a precursor to full diplomatic relations.

They argued that Indonesia would remain steadfast in its principle of not opening diplomatic ties until there was a total solution for the Palestinian question.

Ribhi stressed that the ambassadors had no intention of pressuring or interfering in Indonesia's domestic affairs.

"We support the stance of the great Indonesia in the context that they would never abandon the Palestinian nation's political rights," he said, adding that relations between the countries represented by the 16 envoys would not change as a result of Indonesia's new policy.

The envoys were from Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Algeria, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Tunisia, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Syria, Libya and Morocco.

When asked whether the envoys had sent a protest letter to the Indonesia government, Ribhi said the envoys did not come to protest or to pressure Indonesia, but merely sought clarification on the trade ties.

Alwi meanwhile revealed that Kuwait and Libya had stated their intention to begin investing in Indonesia.

He said Libya had promised to persuade some 'Petro dollar' countries to jointly come to Indonesia.

"Kuwait officially said on Thursday that it will open mining oil projects to the amount of US$6 billion in the country," Alwi said.

When asked of his plans to meet influential Jewish figures such as George Soros, Henry Kissinger and Rabbi Schneider, Alwi said that it would depend on Abdurrahman's schedule in New York next week.

"In New York if there is time we'll arrange a meeting. We will also meet with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Portuguese foreign minister," Alwi added.

Abdurrahman will be in the United States on Tuesday following his whirlwind tour to eight southeast Asian countries. (04)