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Rice to Visit Indonesia, Australia Next Week

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Indonesia and Australia in a brief Asia-Pacific mission next week. It will be her first visit to both countries since taking office and the agenda will include security and environmental issues.

The secretary's visit to Indonesia is another sign of improved U.S. relations with the world's most populous Muslim nation after years of strain over human rights abuses in East Timor beginning in the early 1990s.

But East Timor was given its independence in 2002 in a United Nations-brokered arrangement accepted by Indonesia. U.S.- Indonesian ties have improved markedly since then, propelled in part by a massive U.S. military relief effort for Indonesia after the December 2004 tsunami disaster.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Ms. Rice will have talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and members of his government on a range of issues including Indonesia's democratic development, dealing with the threat of avian flu and ongoing tsunami reconstruction efforts.

He said they will also discuss military relations, which the United State began renewing last year amid reforms by the Indonesian armed forces and growing anti-terrorism cooperation with the Jakarta government:

"These are good and useful programs," he said. "That said, they have to meet certain criteria, and when we had concerns about the behavior of the Indonesian military, the U.S. government restricted those programs. In response to discussion and negotiation and mutual understanding on a series of issues, we were able to move that relationship forward once again."

Spokesman McCormack noted that President Yudhoyono, a former army general, is himself a graduate of a U.S. training program for foreign military officers.

In Australia, Ms. Rice will meet senior government officials and take part in a new three-way strategic dialogue among the United States, Australia and Japan.

She will also participate there in the first Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate with officials from Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea.

The grouping aims at developing technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions though without binding emissions limits.

Environmental groups have criticized the initiative as an effort to by-pass the 1997 U.N. Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gases that the Bush administration has spurned as too costly for the U.S. economy.