Washington - The Bush administration may be eager to resume full military ties with Indonesia. But given the continuing resistance in Congress, President George W Bush could only offer his guest, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the next best thing: An offer to resume sales of non-lethal military equipment and a promise that full military ties will be resumed – some day.
At a press conference following his meeting with Mr Yudhoyono on May 25, Mr Bush said his government supported the resumption of full military ties withIndonesia since that “would be in the interest of both countries”. But he did not give any time-frame.
Mr Yudhoyono indicated that he understood why military ties could not be fully reestablished for now. “Actually, conditions are positive, (but) on the part ofIndonesia, we have to continue with our reform and do many things for the resumption of military-to-military relations,” said Mr Yudhoyono, who arrived on May 24 for a four-day visit.
In a separate briefing on May 26, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington would resume sales of non-lethal military equipment toIndonesia.
"We decided to renew government-to-government transfers of non-lethal defence articles and services to the government of Indonesia," Mr Boucher said.
"We think that increased US sales in these manners that are specifically targeted can enhance democratic military reform, can help us both achieve key security objectives, such as humanitarian relief, counter-terrorism and maritime security."
Mr Boucher reiterated that full military ties required prosecution of soldiers implicated in "gross violations of human rights" and accountability for abuses committed in East Timor and other places in the vast archipelago.
The US restricted military aid for Indonesia in the early 1990s due to gross human rights abuses in the country. Congress suspended all forms of military relations following the killings of East Timorese in 1999 by militiamen, allegedly backed by the Indonesian military, during and after a UN-sponsored ballot that led to the independence of East Timor. However, following the Dec 26 tsunami that ravaged Aceh, military ties between the two countries started to improve.
Analysts have said that reviving full military ties with Indonesia is also in Washington's interest since Indonesia could play a strategic role in the US-led war against terrorism.
* Bush promises Susilo full military ties (The Jakarta Post, May 28)
* US lifts ban on certain military sales to Indonesia (The Straits Times, May 28)
* Non-lethal US defence sales to Indonesia cleared (Antara, May 27)