Monday, top defense and foreign policy officials of the United States and Australia ended talks in Canberra on regional issues, including developments in Indonesia. The two sides are taking tentative steps to restore military ties with Indonesia, as the new government there grapples with secessionist movements in outlying regions.
A joint communiqué reaffirms Australian and U.S. support for Indonesia's territorial integrity and for peaceful solutions to regional grievances, including autonomy negotiations for Aceh and Irian Jaya, which both have strong secessionist movements.
At a news conference, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the two allies remain mindful of past human rights abuses by the Indonesian armed forces, yet see value in resuming military links largely severed during the East Timor crisis, two years ago:
"One of the points that we would always wish to emphasize to the Indonesian military is the ongoing importance of adhering to international norms of human rights as they deal with frankly some very difficult problems," Downer continued. "That's not to say the secessionists, themselves, are necessarily great champions of human rights. But, you know, in dealing with these problems, the Indonesians have to be cautious to adhere to the international norms of human rights. But bearing all that in mind, we see value in the United States and we see great value in Australia in having quite substantial contact with the Indonesia military and dealings with the Indonesia military," Downer said. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Australian television the United States approaches the new government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri with "an attitude of helpfulness." However, he noted that (U.S) Congressional human rights restrictions bar arms sales and most other forms of military aid.
He says the Bush Administration might go to Congress to get those laws modified, or waived, if it seems appropriate.
The meetings here for which both Mr. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made the long trip from Washington, marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. / Australian defense treaty.
Although both sides reaffirmed the alliance as a bedrock of their respective foreign policies, there were some policy differences in evidence.
The joint communiqué affirmed Australian support for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, for which the Bush Administration has said it will not seek Senate ratification.
And, at the session with reporters, Foreign Minister Downer said that, although Australia considers it imperfect, it supports the enforcement agreement for the global biological warfare treaty, which the Bush Administration last week rejected.
Secretary Powell told reporters that, in a "spirited" discussion with his Australian counterparts, he argued that the enforcement accord would heap restrictions on countries, such as the United States, with advanced biological science industries, while doing little to catch those nations with covert weapons programs: "We don't believe the convention is verifiable, and that was said at the time it was signed," Powell told reporters. "And we don't think this protocol really stops those who wish to proliferate from proliferating, and would do much to verify or catch those who are already proliferating with the verification regime that would be there. So, it's not only not serving our interests, but we didn't think it was achieving its intended purpose of stopping proliferation or finding those who already are proliferating," Powell said.
Foreign Minister Downer says it would be wrong to conclude from its treaty differences with Washington that Australia considers the Bush Administration to be "unilateralist." He says the government of Prime Minister John Howard is pleased by the level of policy consultation provided by Washington.
Mr. Powell's visit here concluded his first Asia trip as Secretary of State. It included stops in Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and China.