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Indonesian Leader to Arrive in US Wednesday - 2001-09-18

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri will arrive in Washington Wednesday. There was initial concern that the visit might be postponed in the aftermath of last week's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Indonesian Embassy spokesman Mahendra Siregar told VOA that President Megawati's visit and meeting with President Bush will provide an opportunity to discuss a U.S. led effort for a global fight against terrorism. "The Indonesian president of the largest Muslim-populated nation in the world would have a good opportunity to express our condolences for what happened last week, and also a good opportunity to build better relations and understanding to overcome global problems, such as terrorism," he said.

This will be President Megawati's first visit to the United States since she came to power in July.

David Denoon, professor of political science at New York University, characterized the current U.S.-Indonesian relations as stable and improving. "The Timor situation is basically behind us," he said. "There is still, of course, a series of investigations going on, and considerable unhappiness among certain groups in the United States about the handling of the human rights abuses. However, the focus of the future is not going to be on East Timor. I think the focus will be on the broader issues inside Indonesia."

East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999, leading to bloody clashes. Earlier this month, President Megawati met with senior political leders from East Timor, which recently held its first free elections for a constituent assembly. There have been concerns, including in the United States, that East Timor's separation from Indonesia could lead to independence moves by separatists in other parts of Indonesia.

Indonesian specialist David Denoon of New York University underscored the importance of maintaining Indonesia's territorial integrity to future U.S.-Indonesia relations. "There is a sense that the broader question, strategically, of Indonesia's role in Southeast Asia, and even its more important global role, are of concern to the Bush administration," he said. "So, I think, their focus will be on Indonesia's integrity, hopefully getting some resolutions of the problems in Aceh, Maluku and Irian Jaya. But, I think, unlike some of the past administrations, the focus will be on Indonesia's strategic importance."

Djohan Djohermansyah is professor of government at the Institute of Public Administration in Jakarta. He says there are several objectives President Megawati hopes to accomplish during her visit. Among them are to seek U.S. support for Indonesia's efforts to resolve the country's separatist problems and to give assurances that the safety of U.S. business interests in those regions will be guaranteed.

Mr. Djohermansyah says the new Indonesian leader also hopes to pursuade U.S. businesses to invest in Indonesia to help with the country's economic recovery. President Megawati plans to meet with representatives from major American companies in Houston and New York.

Indonesia also needs spare parts for military hardware it bought from the United States, but the U.S. Congress has prohibited military assistance to Indonesia. Political observer Djohermansyah of the Institute of Public Administration in Jakarta says during her visit to Washington, the Indonesian president may also want to discuss the possibility of resumption of limited military cooperation with Indonesia. Human rights groups in the United States have opposed U.S.-Indonesian military relations.