News / USA

Obama in Indonesia to Improve Muslim Relations, Trade Ties

US President Barack Obama, left, speaks in a news conference accompanied by his Indonesian counterpart Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Merdeka palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, 09 Nov. 2010.
US President Barack Obama, left, speaks in a news conference accompanied by his Indonesian counterpart Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Merdeka palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, 09 Nov. 2010.

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President Barack Obama is in Indonesia for a less than one-day stay that includes talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and a planned address to the Indonesian people on Wednesday.   

His visit is a sweet return for the president who spent several years of his boyhood living in Indonesia.

It began amid the sound of trumpets and a military gun salute as U.S. President Barack Obama stepped out of the presidential limousine at the presidential palace, the Istana Merdeka, and received a warm welcome from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.  Mr. Obama shook hands with Cabinet ministers and other officials before beginning bilateral talks with President Yudhoyono.

In a joint news conference, Mr. Obama said he is glad to be back in Indonesia.  He said he is focused not on the past, but on a future of building a comprehensive relationship with the world's largest Muslim majority nation.

"As one of the world's largest democracies, as the largest economy in Southeast Asia, and as a member of the G20, as a regional leader, as a vast archipelago on the front lines of climate change, and as a society of extraordinary diversity, Indonesia is where many of the challenges and of the opportunities of the 21st century come together," said the president.  

As he did on his previous stop in India, Mr. Obama said the United States is looking to strengthen alliances, deepen relationships with Asia, and re-engage with regional organizations such as ASEAN 9 (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) which Indonesia will chair next year.

Issues in talks with President Yudhoyono include regional and global economic matters, counter-terrorism, security cooperation, and anti-piracy efforts.  Later, a joint news conference with President Yudhoyono, the two leaders announced an agreement to boost cooperation in trade, education, clean energy and security.

Asked about the status of his outreach effort to the Muslim world, the president said it is still a work in progress.

"Our efforts have been earnest, sustained.  We do not expect that we are going to completely eliminate some of the misunderstandings and mistrust that have developed over a long period of time, but we do think we are on the right path," said Mr. Obama.

Some groups staged demonstrations in Jakarta to protest President Obama's visit or urge him to take up their cause, including one Muslim fundamentalist organization protesting what it called continuing U.S. military involvement in the Muslim world.

This is a long-awaited trip for Mr. Obama, who was forced to postpone a visit twice earlier in the year due to domestic political and other issues.  He said it is his hope to return to Indonesia for a longer stay.

Wednesday he is scheduled to visit the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, and make a speech to the Indonesian people at the University of Indonesia.    

White House aides say President Obama's schedule is likely to be shortened because ash from Mt. Merapi in central Java threatens further disruptions to air travel.

If that turns out to be the case, the president will depart earlier for Seoul South Korea, for the G20 summit, followed by Yokohama, Japan for the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit.

Related report by VOA's Brian Padden

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