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US-Indonesia Relations Take Turn for the Better

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick (l) is greeted by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has met with visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick in another sign of rapidly warming ties. The United States is giving some $73 million in aid, and has invited the Indonesian leader to the United States later this month. This appears to be a new positive chapter in ties with Indonesia - home to the world's largest Muslim population.

For years, the relationship between Washington and Jakarta has been cool, with the United States worried about Indonesia's track record on human rights, and Jakarta worried about the United States' armed interventions in Muslim nations: Afghanistan and Iraq.

Both sides now seem to want to try to move on.

Saturday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick was in Jakarta for the signing of a $73 million U.S. economic aid package. Hundreds of millions of dollars are expected to follow to help Indonesia's tsunami-devastated Aceh Province.

Mr. Zoellick met with the Indonesian president to discuss the agenda for the leader's visit to the United States on May 25.

This is expected to include talks on restoration of full military ties. Cooperation was suspended in 1991 because of human rights abuses by Indonesia's armed forces in East Timor.

Although Deputy Secretary Zoellick was quick to praise the advances made by the Indonesian army in recent years, he said that full restoration of military relations would depend on greater accountability by those responsible for the East Timor violence, and further advances in investigating the murders of two American teachers in the province of Papua three years ago.

"We would like to expand the efforts, and I think they would be very timely, given the efforts of this government with the reform, but we need to do so in a context of where we deal with some of these legacies, while we also look to the future." Mr. Zoellick said.

The U.S. military provided massive help in response to the December 26 Indian Ocean tsunami, which devastated Indonesia's Aceh Province, and left 165,000 people dead there. Since then, momentum has been building for full military ties, which the United States has argued will also help combat terrorism. Indonesia has suffered major attacks by its homegrown Islamic terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah.

Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick will visit Aceh Sunday, and will wrap up his Asian tour early next week with visits to Malaysia and Singapore.