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Rumsfeld Hopeful US-Indonesia Military Relations Can Resume - 2002-05-02

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he hopes the United States can soon resume military relations with Indonesia. Mr. Rumsfeld made the statement after separate talks with visiting dignitaries from two other Asia countries, Singapore and Malaysia.

Defense sources suggest the visiting Asian officials, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Malaysian Defense Minister Dato Sri Najib bin Abdul Razak, privately urged Mr. Rumsfeld to engage with Indonesia because of its power and influence in the region.

But the U.S. Defense Secretary appeared to require little outside prompting, telling reporters Thursday he has long been a strong supporter of military-to-military relations with foreign countries and saying the contacts developed over the years have often proved enormously useful. He suggested closer links with Indonesia would be to the benefit of the United States.

"I think it is unfortunate that the United States does not today have military-to-military relationships with Indonesia, and I am certainly hopeful that we will be able to reestablish them in one way or another in the period ahead," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Congress effectively banned all arms sales and military training programs with Indonesia in 1999 because of the bloodshed that swept through East Timor after its decision to break away from Jakarta's rule.

However the Bush administration has appeared interested in reviving military contacts, sending a senior Pentagon official to Jakarta just last month to discuss defense issues with senior Indonesian authorities.

Pentagon sources believe Indonesia's influential military can either "support or subvert" democracy in Indonesia. They say if the United States wants positive change in the predominantly Muslim country, the military must be on board.

The sources also view closer ties with Indonesia as crucial to the global war on terrorism, especially in light of the suspected presence in Indonesia of individuals and groups sympathetic to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.