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US, Indonesia to Expand Bilateral Cooperation

The outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Cameron Hume said Wednesday high level diplomatic meetings will take place between the two governments in Washington in September to expand bilateral cooperation. He says the talks reflect the improving relationship between two of the largest democracies in the world.

Speaking to journalists in Jakarta, Ambassador Hume said the Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will discuss six areas of cooperation and assistance. The two leaders will focus on defense, energy, trade and investment, education, democracy and environmental issues.

Significant improvement

Ambassador Hume says military cooperation has already improved significantly since 2005 when the United States lifted restrictions on working with the Indonesian army. And he said last week's announcement on restoring U.S. military ties to Kopassus, the Indonesian counterterrorism unit that has been accused of human rights abuses will be gradual and limited to members who are not linked to past violations.

"They have agreed to have some staff talks between the two sides. And for the rest of it, it is completely one step at a time," Hume said. "The sense that the walls have all fallen down and people are rushing ahead 'pell mell,' [without restraint] I frankly I don't see that."

Rights issues

Human rights groups objected to any U.S. military contact with Kopassus. They say the Indonesian military has not yet done enough to stop human rights abuses in areas like Papua or to prosecute past human rights violations in Aceh or East Timor.

The ambassador says the United States is also making educational exchanges a top priority.

"The U.S. has announced a $150 million program which includes attention to higher education," Hume said. "The goal is really to expand the number of students and research going in both directions. I would note that last month the number of visas issued to Indonesian students going to the United States was up 30 percent in one year. Our hope at the embassy is that we will be able to double the number of Indonesian students in the United States within three years."

Since he arrived in 2007, Ambassador Hume says the relationship between the United States and Indonesia has greatly improved, thanks in large part to the election of President Barack Obama. In a poll taken three years ago, he says, only 27 percent of Indonesians said they liked the U.S. Now, Hume says, the U.S. favorability rating is over 60 percent.