Clinton visits Indonesia

The Baltimore Sun

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Indonesians yesterday that she wants to open a "robust partnership" with their fast-growing country, President Barack Obama's boyhood home.

Arriving here on the second stop of her first trip as the top American diplomat, Clinton also announced that the Obama administration intends to sign a treaty moving the U.S. closer to a key regional group, the Association of South East Asian Nations.

The Bush administration declined to sign the treaty, a move that critics took as a sign of its lack of interest in the region and preoccupation with the Middle East.

Clinton's announcement was another signal of the administration's distance from Bush policies and of its intention to increase cooperation with other governments.

U.S. officials said the administration wants closer ties to Indonesia because it is a regional powerhouse and a democratic Muslim-majority nation in a strategic location.

In a news conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda, Clinton said the country was proof that "democracy, Islam and moderation can not only coexist, but can thrive."

Indonesia's cooperation will be key to solving regional and world problems, officials said, including climate change. The country, the world's largest Muslim country, is also the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases - behind the United States and China - largely because of deforestation, according to U.S. officials.

"The United States must have strong relationships and a strong presence here in Southeast Asia," Clinton said.

Clinton visited the ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta and held a joint news conference with its secretary general, Surin Pitsuwan, to underscore her interest in regional cooperation.

Pitsuwan joined in criticizing the Bush administration, saying Clinton's visit "shows the seriousness of the United States to end its diplomatic absenteeism in the region."

Pitsuwan, like the Japanese leaders Clinton met earlier this week, showed his concern about new signs of U.S. protectionism. He said he welcomed Clinton's "strong commitment not to erect trade barriers."

Wirayuda, the Indonesian foreign minister, joked that Obama, who lived in Jakarta as a youth, enjoys a "strong constituency" in Indonesia. There has been speculation that Obama may deliver a long-promised speech to the Muslim world from Indonesia, perhaps in November, before he is scheduled to attend a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Police had warned that Clinton's arrival could provoke protests, but only small groups of demonstrators showed up.

Din Syamsuddin, leader of the country's second-largest Muslim organization, declined to attend a dinner for Clinton and local civic groups, saying the occasion was meaningless because Clinton was not going to discuss substantive issues.

Clinton arrived at a military airport in the city and was serenaded by uniformed children from the school the U.S. president once attended.

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