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Indonesian President Calls on Moderate Islamic Nations to Help Iraq

A U.S. official in Jakarta says Indonesia's president told the top U.S. military officer Tuesday that moderate Islamic nations should help Iraq's new government stabilize the country. And the official says the American officer, General Peter Pace, told the president his voice would be heard if he spoke publicly about that. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Jakarta.

A senior U.S. defense official says the discussion of Iraq was part of a broad-ranging, nearly hour-long meeting that also covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in Lebanon and efforts to increase U.S.-Indonesian military exchanges. The official, who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity, said President Susilio Bambang Yudhoyono listed seven moderate Islamic countries, including Indonesia, that could be helping Iraq.

The official says General Pace told the president if he makes such statements in public it would have an impact in the United States, where he said many people need reassurance that the U.S. goals for Iraq are shared by other countries.

The official says the president told General Pace it is Iraqis who must solve the Iraq problem, not Americans, and that both Iraqis and Afghans have embraced democracy in recent years, following the U.S.-led invasions.

Later, at a news conference, General Pace said help for Iraq from countries like Indonesia can come in many forms.

"There's a lot that countries can do, short of sending military force, that'd be very powerful in its long-term effect inside of Iraq for the good of the Iraqi people," he noted.

The general said countries can provide support for Iraq's efforts to achieve political reconciliation and economic development, which he sees as just as important as security operations for establishing stability. He said President Yudhoyono had some good ideas on how to help Iraq's economy.

On bilateral issues, General Pace said he came to hear ideas from the president, defense minister and the head of the military on how to further develop U.S.-Indonesian military relations. He said that could include joint exercises and training on peacekeeping operations, but he said no decisions were made.

The other official who spoke to VOA said the current emphasis is on a $1 million educational program for Indonesian service members, teaching them both military skills and democratic values. He says there are also some U.S. service members studying at advanced military schools here. The official says talk of arms sales has been postponed because Indonesia does not have the money to buy what it wants, even though the United States lifted its arms embargo against Indonesia in 2005.

The embargo was imposed to protest human rights violations by the Indonesian military, and the official says some Indonesian officials are skeptical about relying on supplies from the United States again. But the official says the military has improved its human rights record significantly, and General Pace said he is pleased with the relationship today.

"I'm very comfortable with the relationship that exists right now between Indonesia and the United States, and especially between the Indonesian armed forces and U.S. armed forces," he added. "We had a problem 10 years ago that we no longer have. I'm really pleased that we're beyond that."

The general also rejected a reporter's suggestion that he had come to Jakarta to seek Indonesia's help in a future war with Iran.

"I came here only to talk about how the U.S. military and the Indonesian military can work together regionally for the betterment of both of our countries, not to talk about U.S. military or Indonesian military in any way interacting with Iran," he said.

General Pace also praised the joint Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore effort to provide security in the Straits of Malacca, and he said the United States is not looking to become involved in that effort, at least for now.