Mon, 07 Apr 2003

`Official statements against Bush may disturb ties'

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Tough words from Indonesian officials against U.S. President George W. Bush regarding the war on Iraq may affect bilateral relations, an analyst has warned.

Kusnanto Anggoro of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that despite the fact that Indonesia strongly opposed the U.S. policy, there were certain ethics of diplomacy that should be upheld.

"As statesmen, Indonesian officials should have taken the diplomatic code of conduct into account before making any statements regarding another country's policy," Kusnanto told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Kusnanto was commenting on the recent statement from Vice President Hamzah Haz, who dubbed President Bush as "king of terrorists" on Friday.

Hamzah was the second top-ranking official to attack Bush personally, after People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais likened Bush to a war criminal last Monday.

The two state officials chair the United Development Party and the National Mandate Party, respectively, whose constituents mostly hail from the Muslim community.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri, who chairs the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, told Bush during their last phone conversation -- just hours after the U.S. began its strike on Iraq -- that she could not understand his decision to go to war; but she short stopped of making a personal attack on Bush.

Kusnanto said he understood that, as politicians, the officials needed to satisfy their domestic constituents, but asserted that in doing so, they should not put the nation's diplomatic relations on the line.

"It cannot be one or the other. Winning the domestic constituents' support does not mean jeopardizing diplomatic relations with other countries," he said.

Indonesia is dependent on the U.S. in terms of financial aid, foreign investment and military equipment.

Rallies against the war have become commonplace in the world's most populous Muslim country, and protests were frequent even before the start of the war on March 20. Some protesters have targeted U.S. business interests here, and called for a boycott of American products.

Although Jakarta called Washington's attack on Iraq "an act of aggression", Kusnanto said that protests against the U.S. should be conveyed politely.

"The world considers Hamzah as our vice president, and making such a statement could hurt the country's credibility," he added.

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said, however, that so far there had been no complaints from the U.S. regarding the country's strong opposition to the war on Iraq.

"Washington clearly knew from the beginning that we had a different view regarding the war, and that similar rejections would also be voiced around the globe," he said.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar, an analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), played down the diplomatic implications of Indonesian senior officials' statements on the war, saying that many other head of states, including Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, had chided Bush in much harsher ways.

"Why should we ask our leaders to be polite, when others are even more impolite in their statements?" she commented.

"It is a fact that Bush is a terrorist, as his actions have caused the indiscriminate killing of Iraqi civilians."