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Indonesia's stature rises

Anticipated security pact with Australia underscores how much ties have warmed.

(Page 2 of 2)



As a result, analysts say, the Bush administration was able to parlay the goodwill into lifting an embargo on military exports and foreign military financing ties with Indonesia on Nov. 22.

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A modest $1 million in foreign military financing has been approved for the Indonesian navy in 2006, compared with $30 million in military grants for the Philippines. Indonesia's Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono said priority would be given to buying spare parts for C-130 transport planes.

Earlier in the year, Washington had been moving toward repairing military ties. In February, two months after the tsunami, the US resumed IMET, an education program for Indonesian soldiers, and the sale of nonlethal military equipment. Later, in May, "the resumption of normal military relations," said President Bush, "would be in the interest of both countries."

But a waiver in the State Department's authorization bill to override many of the restrictions on restoring military ties angered critics.

The State Department cited the "national security interests" as a reason for the waiver, noting Indonesia plays a strategic role as a "voice of moderation in the Islamic world." Indonesia also received critical support from then-Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Indonesia.

Another factor holding back military ties, the fate of two American teachers murdered in Papua Province in 2002, also saw progress. On Jan. 11, police acted on leads from FBI investigators and arrested 12 suspects.

But much of the source of improvement lies in perceptions of Yudhoyono himself. A graduate of the IMET program, he has called the US his "second home." Yudhoyono has supported increased civilian control over the military, which has dominated Indonesian politics for 40 years. Perhaps most significant, some 88 percent of Indonesia's electorate voted for him in the nation's first-ever direct presidential election.

Washington's about face on military ties with Indonesia follows that of Pakistan in 2001. Soon after 9/11, Musharraf agreed to allow Pakistan to be used as a base in attacks against Afghanistan's Taliban regime. But where Yudhoyono has a direct popular mandate, Musharraf rose to power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

Some of Yudhoyono's domestic political allies warn that the US cannot take its political support - or popularity within Indonesia - for granted. Hilman Rasyad, a member of parliament's security and foreign affairs commission, said that an alliance with the US would be "difficult, even impossible."

Mr. Rasyad's conservative Islamist Justice and Prosperity (PKS) party controls only about 8 percent of the vote in the 550-seat parliament, but stepped in to bolster Yudhoyono. A critical ally, the PKS is one of several Islam-linked parties in parliament. But even it is ambivalent about US ties. "Anti-US feeling is spreading for us, even in this party," Rasyad says.

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