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Indonesia Seeks to Strengthen Ties With US


Next month, President Obama will make a much anticipated visit to Indonesia, a country where he spent a few years as a child. For the mostly Muslim country, it is a chance to strengthen ties with the United States.

Indonesia, with the world's largest Muslim population, and one of the largest democracies, aims to play a bigger role on the international stage. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told journalists Tuesday that his country should capitalize on President Obama's visit to raise its international profile.

"Given the transformations that have taken place in Indonesia, I think the best is yet to come in terms of Indonesia-U.S. relations. Having the prospect of the visit of President Obama soon, it will inject a tremendous momentum to our bilateral relations. I'm very confident, very happy with where we are now, but there will be greater gains in the future," he said.

President Obama is expected to spend a few days in Indonesia with his family next month. The trip may include a tour of the Borobudur temple and a trip to his school in Jakarta. He lived in Indonesia for a few years as a child after his American mother married an Indonesian man.

Prominent Muslim leaders have welcomed the trip. It will be a stark contrast with the 2006 half-day visit from President George W. Bush that was marked by street protests. Marty Natalegawa says this reflects the change of orientation in U.S. foreign policy.

"Often case, governments and countries want to dominate the conversation, but in the case of the present administration, they have been very much in a listening mode," said the foreign minister. "I don't want to overemphasize how game-changing the new U.S. administration has been because the projection was already positive. But now, that trajectory has been given a new momentum".

While Mr. Bush was unpopular among Indonesians, during his administration, Washington and Jakarta became closer. They increased cooperation on fighting terrorism and the U.S. played a large role in aid efforts after a massive tsunami devastated Aceh province.

Since strongman leader Suharto was ousted in 1998, Indonesia has built a stable democracy, strengthened its economy and earned a seat in the powerful G20 group of nations. It now wants to capitalize on Obama's emotional ties with the country.

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