Subject: SMH: Too Soon To Resume Defence Ties, Says Howard

Too Soon To Resume Defence Ties, Says PM By Michelle Grattan And Lindsay Murdoch

05/03/2000 Sydney Morning Herald

The Prime Minister has said it is too early to talk about renewing Australia's defence ties with Indonesia, but he held out the prospect of visiting Jakarta during this parliamentary term.

In a softer line than he took last week, Mr Howard said the relationship, which had been strained, was recovering, repairing and rebuilding.

Both sides had to approach that process ``with goodwill, with an eye to the future, rather than the past, but also recognising that as you look to the future you are not uninfluenced by the past.

``I'm quite sure that in the fullness of time the relationship will be rebuilt, and will be established on very firm foundations. But it will be a different relationship.''

Mr Howard said he believed he had visited Indonesia more times than any other country as prime minister, and this was sufficient answer to suggestions that he was reluctant to go there ``at the appropriate time in the appropriate circumstances''.

Pressed on whether he would return to Jakarta during this parliamentary term, he said: ``I'm not going to rule out the possibility of going to Indonesia at some time in the current parliamentary term. I expect I probably would. I don't know yet. I don't have any immediate plans.''

Asked about the suggestion from the Opposition Leader, Mr Beazley, who met President Abdurrahman Wahid on Monday, that Australia should resume co-operation with the Indonesian military, Mr Howard said: ``I just think it's too early to start talking about renewing defence ties.

``I'm not saying you mightn't talk about them some time into the future. But I think talking about them at the moment is premature.''

In Jakarta, Mr Beazley said that while any future co-operation between the two countries' armed forces should be just one strand of a more diverse relationship, ``it must be supportive of Indonesia's democratic transition''.

A former defence minister, he pushed the idea of Australian forces undertaking ``co-operative endeavours'' with Indonesian forces, such as efforts to combat piracy at sea.

Relations between the Australian Defence Force and the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) were in effect frozen after Australian troops led multinational forces into East Timor last September.

Most of the senior Indonesian military commanders blamed for the violence have been promoted and still hold key TNI positions. Mr Wahid has pledged a pardon for General Wiranto, former chief of the armed forces, if an Indonesian court finds him guilty of abuses during last year's violence in East Timor .

Mr Beazley, who presented himself in meetings in Jakarta as the likely next prime minister of Australia, ruled out Australian troops resuming training of Indonesia's elite Kopassus forces, blamed for sponsoring much of the violence.

But he said: ``I think you can see from the things I am saying that we need a mature defence relationship which is based on confidence building.

``I think it is also important that it is just a strand of the relationship, not the dominant element of it.''

Mr Beazley said that during his two-day visit to Jakarta he had stressed the need for a new beginning in relations between Indonesia and Australia and the importance of being good neighbours. In his 25-minute meeting with Mr Wahid, the President indicated that he wanted to visit Australia but gave no exact timing.

Mr Beazley criticised Mr Howard for failing to visit Indonesia since Mr Wahid, the country's first democratically elected president, took office in October.

``Our national interests ... dictate that we cannot step back from each other just because the going gets tough,'' he told a breakfast meeting of the Indonesia-Australia Business Council.

``Neither of us can afford to put the other on the shelf for a few years. Indonesia's dignity and self-respect are not diminished by pursuing good relations with Australia. Nor is Australia's dignity and self-respect diminished by our pursuit of good relations with Indonesia.''

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