Fri, 11 Apr 2003

President to press ahead with Russia visit: Hassan

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Megawati Soekarnoputri will go ahead with her planned visit to Russia despite the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic and Iraq war, a cabinet minister says.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said on Thursday that Megawati would leave on April 17 for a 10-day trip to Rumania, Russia and Poland to discuss the latest developments in Iraq and several bilateral issues.

"The Iraq issue will be one of the items on the agenda to be discussed during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin," Hassan said after a Cabinet meeting.

"It is interesting because our stance on Iraq is in line with Russia's stance."

The first leg of her trip would be to Rumania, where she would stay for two days. On April 20, Megawati and her entourage would fly to Russia for a four-day state visit.

In Russia, the President will also visit St. Petersburg, before continuing to Poland for a two-day visit on April 24.

One of the main objectives of the visit is to explore possibilities for military cooperation or sales as Indonesia still remains under a United States' military embargo.

In her previous visit to several Eastern European countries, Megawati also explored arms sales.

The President's visit will be the first by an Indonesian leader to Russia in 23 years.

Sources at the ministry of foreign affairs said that weapons' purchases would be one of the seven or eight memorandum of understandings signed with Russia.

When asked whether buying weapons would be a topic of discussion, Hassan said: "I heard about that, but it is not yet confirmed."

During the 10-day journey, Megawati is also slated to hold meetings with Indonesian communities in those Eastern Europe countries.