Visiting Australian Prime Minister John Howard says Australia and Indonesia are looking ahead toward a strong working relationship together. The prime minister is the first head of state to meet with Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri since she took office three weeks ago.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said he is looking forward to a relationship with Indonesia that is based on what he describes as "positive realism". "What it means is you have to be realistic about what you have in common with a country and what you do not have in common," he said, "but you then focus in a positive way on the things you have in common and the things that can be productive."

The relationship between Australia and Indonesia was strained in 1999, when Australia led an international peacekeeping mission to East Timor after violence erupted when the territory voted to break free of Indonesian rule. The peacekeepers oversaw the withdrawal of Indonesian forces from East Timor amid accusations that Indonesian troops had committed atrocities there.

Mr. Howard said that throughout his 24-hour visit, neither President Megawati nor any of her cabinet ministers wanted to dwell on the problems of the past. The two leaders issued a joint statement declaring a commitment to closer ties. President Megawati said the statement indicates that there is a concrete process underway to return Indonesia and Australia to the strong relationship they need.

Australia views with concern the future of its closest Asian neighbor, which is troubled by a continuing economic crisis as well as separatist and religious fighting. The potential disintegration of Indonesia could lead to a massive humanitarian crisis at Australia's front door.