Tue, 18 Sep 2001

Time for U.S., Indonesia to unite on terrorism

JAKARTA (JP): President Megawati Soekarnoputri's trip to the United States (U.S.) is the best moment to show the world Indonesia's commitment to becoming part of the global effort to combat terrorism, an observer said on Monday.

Megawati's U.S. visit is taking place at a time when the two countries, as well as other parts of the world, are facing terrorism, said political analyst Kusnanto Anggoro of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

"Of course, there are many issues to talk about, but the main concern will be one of terrorism," Kusnanto told The Jakarta Post here on Monday.

Megawati left Jakarta for the U.S. on Monday for a week-long visit. Meeting president George W. Bush and addressing the UN will be top of her agenda.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said on a separate occasion on Monday that Indonesia would cooperate with any countries to combat global terrorism.

"Indonesia wants to see concrete benefits from international cooperation," he said, as quoted by Antara, after seeing off Megawati at Halim Perdanakusuma airport.

Megawati and her entourage, which included her husband Taufik Kiemas and her daughter Puan Maharani, departed on a Garuda Indonesia Airbus A330 airplane.

Megawati will be among the first foreign leaders to visit the U.S. after the terrorist attack on Sept. 12 on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

Kusnanto, however, emphasized the visit would have symbolic meaning, saying that other issues, particularly economic ones, had earlier been discussed by leaders of the two countries.

"From the era of Megawati's predecessor president Abdurrahman Wahid, the basic premise in diplomatic talks has remained the same, namely economic recovery and maintaining national integrity," he said.

Concerning bilateral relations, Kusnanto said there would, of course, be give and take between Indonesia and the U.S. In this case, he said, the U.S. government would likely aim at gaining diplomatic and political support for its campaign against terrorism from Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world.

Asked whether the presidential visit would be against the principle of Indonesia's "free and active foreign policy", Kusnanto said, "Terrorism has nothing to do with the Cold War era setup of the Western bloc versus the Eastern bloc. Neither does it relate to religious faith or ethnicity. Terrorism is a transnational problem".

Hassan also stressed that terrorist threats had become a global threat, with Indonesia being no exception.

He pointed out the involvement of foreign terrorists in the recent attack on Atrium Plaza in Jakarta.

The Indonesian police have found foreign links between the Atrium Plaza bombing and the bombing of churches on Christmas eve last year in major cities across Indonesia.

"Don't think that cases such as the Atrium bombing are an ordinary crime. There are political motives behind them," he said.

In a new twist, People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Amien Rais, who had openly been opposed to Megawati's trip, called on the public to give its support.

"Let's give our moral support to Megawati. Hopefully, there will be something useful to be brought home despite the depressed atmosphere," he said.

Amien had earlier called on Megawati to call off the U.S. trip on the grounds that American leaders were still overcome with grief and anger at the terrorist attacks on their icons of power.

"We must give the President our moral support because her departure was a state decision. We wish her well."

But Amien remained skeptical of whether the visit would be productive because American leaders were still in a state of shock. (08/23)