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Indonesia’s “first test” in the Security Council – Foreign policy and domestic sentiments

Updated On: Mar 30, 2007

Indonesia's support of UN Security Council's (UNSC) resolution to impose sanctions on Iran has surprised many, especially lawmakers and Muslim organizations inIndonesia itself. 

Indonesia is known as close ally to Iran and has openly supported its nuclear program for peaceful purpose. It has also spoken up against sanctions.  Hence, its about-face and vote for the UNSC’s resolution came as a surprise to many at home. 

The protests came not only from the conservative groups but from moderate Muslim organizations such as Nahdatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah and moderate public figure such as Gus Dur. In fact, it annoys a large number of house representative members, who decided to summon President Susilo Bambany Yudhoyono (SBY) over the Iran resolution.

The new and tougher sanctions include banning Iranian arms exports and freezing the assets of 28 people and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear programs. The new resolution is a continuation of last December's sanctions, when the 15-member Security Council ordered all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs. But Iran continued to expand the uranium enrichment program.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hassan Wirayuda argued that most of the provisions in the resolution, which gives Iran and Western nations room to develop peaceful options rather than military ones, was consistent with Indonesia's position. Indonesia had previously urged Iran to temporarily stop its uranium enrichment program because it had become a source of suspicion among the US and other Western countries.

Some people speculated that Indonesia was under pressure from other Security Council members especially the US, who tried to approach and persuade Indonesiain a meeting prior to the voting on Saturday, March 24. This drive is regarded as a betrayal toward Iran and support for Israel and the USIndonesia's decision is even criticized as 'cowardly' and ‘diplomacy without blue-print’.

Indonesia and other two non-permanent council members, South Africa and Qatar had pressed for amendments and expressed reservations about the resolution. However, all of them still decided to vote in favor of the UNSC resolution.. Indonesia and Qatar managed to secure an indirect reference in the text to the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, which is aimed at Israel, the only country in that region known to possess a nuclear arsenal.

Wirayuda explained the reasons behind Indonesia's decision as an effort to prioritize negotiations in settling the issue to avoid possible sanctions, including military one, which may lead to further rise in tensions. This argument is backed up by an international affairs observer that Indonesia's position would be more difficult if it chose to oppose the powerful countries. With the stance, Indonesia may have the countries` confidence for use to persuade them.

Amidst the harsh reactions, there are still observers who believe that Indonesia is acting just right by representing universal values of justice, human rights and peace.Indonesia does not sit on the UNSC as Islamic states' representative. Another view even believes if Indonesia was against the sanction, the implication would be dangerous. It would imply that Indonesia is mixing foreign policy interest with Islamic interests. By failing to clearly disconnect the issue of Islam and Iran (or theMiddle East), the door is open for domestic volatility and increased radicalization. It was therefore timely that Malaysia's Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, who is also the chairman of Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has urged Iran not to defy United Nations Security Council sanctions over its nuclear programme. He hoped Iran would consider the implications of the sanctions.The unpopular maneuver has put SBY under pressure, given the fact that his popularity hits the lowest record after he took the office. His declined popularity is mainly due to the country's economy, which is considered worse than last year.  Also in his two and a half years reign, Indonesia has been plagued with various disasters and mishaps – from tsunami and earthquakes to the various transportation woes, and an increasing numbers of human deaths from the avian flu.  Indonesia has also been embroiled in a dispute with the World Health Organisation (WHO) over virus samples.Indonesia has stopped sending virus samples to WHO since January demanding that WHO stopped selling the samples to commercial vaccine manufacturers.  This issue has just been resolved after Indonesia’s demand for fairness in access to bird flu vaccine has been accommodated by WHO.

While the high-profile spat with WHO has been resolved, the issue over UNSC sanctions on Iran could put SBY in an even more difficult situation. Ex-President Gus Dur also alleged that since Indonesia adopted a free and active foreign policy, SBY could be subject to impeachment if the president was proven to have violated the law. Time will tell whether the oppositions can use this issue to further decrease the people's trust in the president.

Sources:

RI says Iran resolution prioritizes peaceful options (Jakarta Post, 27 March 2007)

Minister denies RI was pressured by West to support sanctions on Iran (Antara, 27 March 2007)

Gus Dur backs legislators` intention to interpellate govt over UNSC resolution (Antara, 27 March 2007

Yudhoyono`s popularity hits record low in years (Antara, 28 March 2007)

FM Wirayuda explains RI decision to support UNSC`s resolution (Antara, 28 March 2007)

RI`s support for UNSC resolution on Iran "realistic": observer (Antara, 26 March 2007

RI supports Iran`s nuclear program for peaceful purpose (Jakarta Post, 26 March 2007)

Lawmakers sign petition to summon SBY over Iran resolution (Jakarta Post, 28 March 2007)

The right message to Iran (Jakarta Post, 27 March 2007)

RI slammed over Iran resolution (Jakarta Post, 26 March 2007)

Indonesia asks UN to go easy on sanctions for Iran (Jakarta Post, 24 March 2007)

VP says RI-Iran ties are not affected by UN resolution (Jakarta Post, 27 March 2007)

U.N. Security Council unanimously approves new sanctions against Iran (Antara, 27 March 2007)

Rice meets with Indonesian counterpart to talk about Iran (Antara, 24 March 2007)

RI demands fairness in access to bird flu vaccine (Antara, 28 March 2007)

Indonesia agrees to resume sharing avian flu samples (Antara, 28 March 2007)