US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick (l) is greeted by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (File Photo - May 7, 2005)
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono is heading to Washington for talks Wednesday with President Bush to push for closer economic and military ties.

President Yudhyono's visit to the United States comes at a time of improved relations between the two countries.

"The purpose of the trip is to strengthen bilateral relationships and to extend and deepen the relations between Indonesia and the United States," said Dino Djalal, a spokesman for the Indonesian President. "As you know, the United States is one of the key [countries] that has diplomatic relations with Indonesia."

He says U.S. generous response to last year's tsunami, which devastated the Aceh province, had a particularly strong effect on relations between Indonesia and the United States.

"The tsunami issue has made the relationships between Indonesia the United States closer in the past few months," he said. "So, the president will need to express our appreciation to the American people and to President Bush for their sympathy and cooperation.

"Also there would be extensive discussions on economic issues, the president will want to discuss with U.S investors on how they can participate in Indonesia economic development and there's also an angle of education," added Mr. Djalal.

Also on Jakarta's agenda for the talks will be the resumption of strategic military ties, which were frozen 13-years ago after the military's brutal attacks on pro-independence supporters in 1991.

An American expert on Indonesian political affairs, William Liddle, of Ohio State University, agreed that the December tsunami has played a role in deepening the relations between the two countries. But more important for Washington, he said, is the Jakarta government's progress toward democracy and cooperation in the fight against international terror.

"Of course, tsunami was very important," said Mr. Liddle. "But that has nothing to do with the basic relationship between United States and Indonesia. Indonesia has had a long and somewhat difficult transition from the old Suharto dictatorship to a new democracy. And the two [previous] presidents were not able to be successful presidents. So, now there is a hope with the directly elected Yudhoyono that he's well placed to become a successful president."

A former military commander and retired general, President Yudhoyono has pledged to continue democratic reforms, root out corruption and step up surveillance in the fight against terrorism.

He and President Bush met in Santiago, Chile, last year, and, according to spokesman Djalal, established a close personal relationship.