The U.S. Undersecretary of State, Richard Armitage, is in Australia to hold talks about security and terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region. His visit comes as the head of Australia's domestic spy agency warns it is "only a matter time" before terrorists mount an attack using a weapon of mass destruction.
Richard Armitage says he supports Australia's decision to restore ties with Indonesia's controversial special forces, the Kopassas unit, in order to combat terrorism. The American diplomat believes Canberra has an important part to play in regional security, both in fighting terrorism, and in restoring stability to such troubled Pacific states as the Solomon Islands.
The restoration of military ties with Kopassas is politically sensitive in Australia. The elite Indonesian troops were accused of orchestrating a wave of violence by pro-Jakarta militias in East Timor following that province's vote for independence in 1999. The unit has also been accused of human rights abuses across the country.
In response to concerns from opposition politicians, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australian troops would not deal with members of Kopassas who had been involved in human rights abuses, or who had links to the extreme Islamic organization Laskar Jihad.
Mr. Armitage says Washington will not renew its ties with the Kopassus unit, which is suspected of involvement in the murders of two U.S. citizens in Indonesia in 2001. He says, however, that a military alliance between Australia and Indonesia would be beneficial for the region.
"I not only understand it, I support it very much. You're a citizen of this neighborhood. It's very much in Australia's interests to get involved with your neighbors for the betterment of all," says Mr. Armitage. "Look, I think we can't forget the past, we can't forget past activities, but we've got to live for the future and if the activities of the Australian Government with the Indonesian military makes for a better future and a safer environment, I say good on them."
While Mr. Armitage was meeting with Prime Minister John Howard and other officials, the potential for violence in the region was being underscored by the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, Dennis Richardson.
In a speech released Wednesday, Mr. Richardson warned that a "catastrophic attack" involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons was "a certainty and was only a matter of time."
Mr. Richardson delivered his warning last week, on the same day Jakarta's J.W. Marriott Hotel was bombed by suspected terrorists. The spy chief says the attack was a reminder that a declaration of victory in the war against terrorism cannot be made any time soon.
In a further sign of the nervousness in Indonesia, the Australian government is warning its citizens in Jakarta to avoid international hotels. The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said the latest warning comes after new intelligence was received.
Mr. Armitage's visit came amid intense diplomatic activity in advance of six-nation talks due to take place in Beijing later this month, aimed at convincing North Korean to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Australia is not among the six nations involved, but Mr. Armitage revealed that Washington would accept an Australian offer to help in that effort.