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Clinton visits Indonesia, urges 'partnership'

Indonesia, President Obama's boyhood home, is seen as key to solving global problems. Clinton says the Obama administration will sign a treaty that Bush declined.

February 19, 2009|Paul Richter

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Indonesians on Wednesday that she wanted to open a "robust partnership" with their fast-growing country, President Obama's boyhood home.

Arriving here on the second stop of her first trip as the top American diplomat, Clinton also announced that the Obama administration intended to sign a treaty moving the U.S. closer to a key regional group, the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

The Bush administration declined to sign the treaty, a move that critics took as a sign of its lack of interest in the region and preoccupation with the Middle East.

Clinton's announcement was the latest signal of distance from the Bush administration and the new administration's intention to increase cooperation with other governments.

U.S. officials said closer ties to Indonesia are being sought because it is a regional powerhouse and a democratic Muslim-majority nation in a strategic location.

In a news conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Hasan Wirajuda, Clinton said the country, which has the world's largest Muslim population, was proof that "democracy, Islam and moderation can not only coexist, but can thrive."

Indonesia's cooperation will be key to solving regional and world problems, U.S. officials said, including climate change. The country is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases -- behind the United States and China -- largely because of deforestation, U.S. officials said.

"The United States must have strong relationships and a strong presence here in Southeast Asia," Clinton said.

Clinton visited ASEAN's headquarters in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, and held a news conference with its secretary-general, Surin Pitsuwan, to underscore her interest in regional cooperation.

Pitsuwan joined in criticizing the Bush administration, saying Clinton's visit "shows the seriousness of the United States to end its diplomatic absenteeism in the region."

Pitsuwan, like the Japanese leaders Clinton met this week, showed his concern about new signs of U.S. protectionism. He said he welcomed Clinton's "strong commitment not to erect trade barriers."

Foreign Minister Wirajuda joked that Obama, who lived in Jakarta as a youth, enjoys a "strong constituency" in Indonesia. There has been speculation that Obama may deliver a long-promised speech to the Muslim world from Indonesia, perhaps in November, before he is scheduled to attend a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Police had warned that Clinton's arrival could provoke protests, but only small groups of demonstrators showed up.

Din Syamsuddin, the leader of Muhammadiyah, the country's second-largest Muslim organization, declined to attend a dinner with Clinton and civic groups, saying that the occasion was meaningless because Clinton was not going to discuss substantive issues.

Clinton arrived at a military airport in the city and was serenaded by children from the school Obama attended.

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paul.richter@latimes.com

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