June 5, 2006

Rumsfeld Indonesia visit cements US military ties

By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent

HANOI (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld travels
to Indonesia on Tuesday for a visit marking the restoration of
military ties, after talks in Vietnam aimed at bolstering
relations with Washington's former foe.

His visit to Jakarta, the final leg of a three-country
Asian tour, takes place six months after the State Department
waived Congressional restrictions on U.S. military aid to
Indonesia imposed in 1992 over human rights abuses by
Indonesian forces.

"We have moved from good military-to-military relationships
to literally no military-to-military relationships for a long
period and, more recently, to the opportunities for
military-to-military relationships again," Rumsfeld said on
Monday in Hanoi.

The Pentagon chief described as an "historic movement"
Indonesia's evolution into one of the world's largest
democracies after decades of authoritarian rule and chaos in
the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

The world's most populous Muslim country with 220 million
people, Indonesia is valued by the United States for its
strategic weight and as an example of Islamic democracy.

"It's a Muslim country, so in the war on terrorism it's a
key country," said a senior Rumsfeld aide. "It's democratic
success story (and) it now has some strong capable leaders that
we get along with."

After a day of meetings in Hanoi on Monday, Rumsfeld told
reporters that U.S.-Vietnamese ties had reached a new level and
the former battlefield enemies would boost military exchanges
and training.


Vietnam is one of several Asian states with which the
Pentagon has built close ties to help its war on terrorism and
to hedge against a rising China, which Washington says is too
secretive about its military spending and its intentions.

Rumsfeld told reporters he and Vietnamese Defense Minister
Pham Van Tra had agreed to increase "exchanges at all levels of
the military and in various ways further strengthen the
military to military relationship."

While U.S. military ties with communist Hanoi are warming
slowly 31 years after the end of the Vietnam war, relations
with Indonesia's military go back decades, although they were
severed after army killings in East Timor in 1992 .

"The Indonesian military is very likely the institution
that has the greatest reach in that large, highly populated
country and it is an important part of their government,"
Rumsfeld said.

He and aides said Indonesia's importance, size and location
near vital sea lanes made it critical for Washington to work
closely with Jakarta.

"Cutting off (military exchanges) is something that's
self-defeating. We lose a decade of professional and personal
contacts," the senior Pentagon official said.

Rumsfeld said he was not seeking particular pledges or
actions from Jakarta on his brief visit, which takes place as
the country grapples with the consequences of a 6.3-magnitude
earthquake that struck Java on May 27, killing 5,782 people and
making tens of thousands homeless.

He said he mainly aimed to "tend to relationships" and
discuss counter-terrorism, maritime security and
intelligence-sharing with Vice-President Muhammed Yusuf Kalla,
Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono and other officials.