Mon, 08 Dec 2003

RI studies Australia's shield program

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia is looking into the impacts of Australia's decision to join the United States-led defense shield program, to secure the Asia-Pacific region.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Sunday he had asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Intelligence Body to study the program.

He said the intention was not to scrutinize Australia, but that countries in the region were entitled to find out what was behind Canberra's crucial decision.

"We have to look at the impact on our national security. The program concerns regional security, it is only fair for each country in the region to try to understand it," Susilo said after delivering his speech at the general conference of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) here.

Trying to tone down the possible dispute with Australia, Susilo said Indonesia would not blow the issue out of proportion.

"I will not comment too early because we need to understand the nature of the concept... the implications for regional peace and security," the senior minister said. With Australia's commitment to the U.S. "Son of Star Wars" program, the country would be further protected from ballistic missiles.

Reports indicate the program may involve the deployment of military hardware to Australia, to increase its ability to detect and terminate air strikes.

Although no direct statement was made, some suggested that Australia's decision was made in anticipation of possible conflict with North Korea, which is said to have the ability to launch a nuclear strike.

Indonesian ministry of foreign affairs spokesman Marty Natalegawa said earlier that the program would ignite an arms race in the region.

"We are not attracted to the idea," he remarked on the country's general position.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer begins his visit to Indonesia on Sunday to attend the CSCAP general conference.

During his visit, Downer is expected to pay a courtesy call on President Megawati Soekarnoputri and hold talks with high-ranking Indonesian officials.

There is a possibility that the defense-shield issue will be among the topics discussed by Downer and Indonesian officials.

Cooperation against terrorism is the main agenda of Downer's meetings with Susilo, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda, National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar and State intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Hendropriyono.

Downer will be accompanied by Australian ambassador for counter-terrorism Les Luck and Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty.