Indonesia's President in Washington for Economic Talks

AFTER more than two decades in power, President Suharto of Indonesia is trying to design a new global role for his country that is equal to its population rank. Today, the leader of the world's fifth most populous nation talks with President Bush and other United States officials in Washington. The meeting is just his latest attempt to adjust Indonesia's status with the big powers.

In April, talks began with China to renew ties that were ruptured 23 years ago.

A much-delayed trip to the Soviet Union, expected late in 1989, could improve Indonesia's cool relations with Moscow. And Suharto appears eager to be chosen head of the 101-nation Non-Aligned Movement.

All these moves reflect Suharto's confidence, say diplomats in Jakarta, and a desire on his part to leave office in coming years with prestige.

Suharto's visit to the US includes a ceremony to receive a prestigious United Nations award for his efforts to slow the growth of Indonesia's population, which is estimated at 178 million.

In Washington, economic issues top the agenda. The US wants Jakarta to support an economic ``forum'' among Pacific area trading partners.

Indonesia, burdened with a $50 billion foreign debt that ranks as the fourth largest among developing countries, is rankled by the latest US plan for third world debt relief.

The plan appears to help only nations that have not been as rigorous in making payments and implementing changes, as Indonesia has been. An oil exporter, Indonesia has tried to open its economy and boost non-oil exports as world petroleum prices have dropped.

Suharto may also want to know the direction of the Bush administration's policy toward Southeast Asia.

Indonesia, the largest member of the six-nation Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), has taken the lead in trying to end the conflict with Hanoi over the future of Vietnamese-occupied Cambodia.

Last month's US decision to provide military aid to noncommunist guerrillas fighting Vietnam in Cambodia was not openly supported by Indonesia.

US Vice-President Dan Quayle met Suharto last month in Jakarta and raised the sensitive issue of human rights in this military-dominated nation. US officials downplay authoritarian aspects of Suharto's rule, merely publicly calling for more ``openness.'' Mr. Quayle, however, did meet with three human rights activists during his stay.

The Indonesian President had sought to visit Moscow this month, but in an apparently unintended snub, the Soviets claimed their schedule did not permit it. Instead, Foreign Minister Ali Alatas went to Moscow in late May and was only able to set a meeting for next month of the Indonesian-Soviet economic and trade committee.

Both China and the Soviet Union have had difficult dealings with Indonesia since a 1965 coup attempt allegedly backed by the Indonesian Communist Party. That coup lead to the rise of Suharto and the end of the Sukarno regime.

Suharto may need the help of Moscow in his quest to become chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement. An original founder of NAM, Indonesia is in tough contest for the leadership post with Soviet-allied Nicaragua. A decision on the next chairman may be made later this year.

``Our foreign policy shows a careful calculation and a realistic awareness of our position, and the role we can play,'' Suharto stated last August, calling NAM ``an extremely important forum.''

Perhaps to bolster its credentials as a leader of the third world, Indonesia decided in January to allow the Palestine Liberation Organization to open an embassy in Jakarta. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world.

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