Monday, February 25, 2008

Pentagon seeks stronger defense ties with Indonesia

JAKARTA (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates landed in Jakarta on Monday, aiming to strengthen military ties with a country the Pentagon sees as a regional leader and secular model for Muslim states.

Gates will meet with Indonesia's president and defense minister to assess their equipment and military training needs. They also will discuss, but not sign, a statement of principles on defense cooperation similar to agreements Indonesia has with China and Australia, said U.S. officials traveling with Gates.

"Indonesia is a huge Islamic country, democratic, secular, and I think strengthening our relationship with Indonesia is very important, not just in a regional context but I think in terms of the role that Indonesia may be able to play more broadly," Gates said ahead of the visit.

Gates' focus on offering support for Indonesia's ongoing defense and national security reforms reflects the Pentagon's desire to broaden the relationship and move beyond Washington's prior focus on Indonesia as a potential terrorist flashpoint after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim-majority country. But it is considered by experts inside the Pentagon as strongly secular.

Still, Indonesia has struggled to combat Islamic militant groups, particularly Jemaah Islamiah, a regional militant network blamed for a series of bombings in Indonesia and linked to the 2002 Bali bombings.

Those attacks, coupled with the intense focus by Washington on counter-terrorism after September 11, relegated Indonesia for years into the group of countries of concern among security experts.

U.S. defense officials, however, now argue Indonesia must be viewed more broadly.

Source : Reuters

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