Mon, 24 Feb 2003

RI firmer on Korea, shuns role on Iraq

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

President Megawati Soekarnoputri met North Korean President Kim Yong-Nam here on Sunday as part of Indonesia's efforts to help defuse the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, but was poised to shun a proactive role in the Iraq issue.

During her one-hour meeting with Kim ahead of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Kuala Lumpur, Megawati urged him to permit multilateral talks to overcome the Korean crisis, as a crisis could jeopardize peace in the region.

Kim was, however, opposed to the suggestion by Megawati, who offered to mediate in the crisis.

"North Korea wants the problem settled through a bilateral dialog with Washington on an equal footing," Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said after the meeting.

He said Pyongyang's insistence showed that the positions held by North Korea and the U.S. remained "far apart", as Washington wanted to bring the issue to the UN Security Council.

"Therefore, there is a need for third parties to hold talks with both sides so they would agree to sit together and discuss the issue equably," he said.

Megawati also called for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis, underlining that war would only cause devastation to the world.

Speaking before the Indonesian community in Malaysia, she hoped the two-day NAM summit would yield a strong message of peace for the U.S. to abort its war plan.

However, Megawati had no plan for similar talks with top Iraqi officials attending the NAM summit, to put persuasive pressure on Baghdad to disarm in order to help foil an imminent attack.

Many analysts and politicians in Jakarta have strongly demanded that Indonesia play a proactive, mediative role in the Iraq issue as it was so doing in the Korean crisis.

Smith Alhadar, vice president of the Indonesian Society for Middle East Studies (ISMES), told the Megawati-led government to step up its diplomatic efforts to help end the Iraqi crisis.

Indonesia should take advantage of its being the world's largest Muslim nation by pushing for an end to the standoff between the U.S. and Iraq, he said.

Smith said it was not enough for Indonesia to send an interfaith mission overseas to spread Indonesia's message of peace.

However, he added, Indonesia should also amicably pressure Iraq to get rid of alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Similarly, Justice Party chairman Hidayat Nurwahid urged the Indonesian delegates to establish strong solidarity among the 114 NAM members against a possible war on Iraq.

This was a significant moment for Indonesia to regain its national dignity among the international community, by taking a leading role among the NAM member countries, which make up two- thirds of the UN, he was quoted by Antara as saying.

Indonesia was only trying to play a leading role in Asia to settle the Korean crisis by sending a special envoy, Nana Sutresna, to offer mediation in talks between Pyongyang and other parties.

Many nations believe Indonesia could assist in the settlement of the Korean crisis, as Jakarta has strong bilateral relations with all involved parties.

"President Kim has expressed his appreciation for Indonesia's good intention in supporting the efforts to defuse the crisis, but underlined that there is a question of how the dialog can be conducted between Pyongyang and Washington," Hassan said.

Citing the complexity of the Korean crisis, the minister called on "other friendly countries" to urge both sides to put aside their differences and engage in a dialog for peace.

Washington has demanded that North Korea renounce its nuclear weapons ambitions, and has said this demand must be fulfilled before the U.S. would agree to negotiations with Pyongyang, which wanted a non-aggression treaty.

Also on Sunday, Megawati held talks with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad to discuss several bilateral problems and other issues with common interests, such as Iraq and Palestine.