Fri, Feb 20, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Clinton turns on the charm in Indonesia


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday relentlessly hammered home the Obama administration’s message that the US is under new management and ready to listen and engage the world.

“When the United States is absent, people believe that we are not interested and that can create a vacuum that destructive forces can fill,” she told a group of journalists after meeting with Indonesia’s leader on the second leg of a weeklong Asia tour. “We don’t want to be absent. We want to be present.”

Earlier, she took to the airwaves, appearing on a popular youth show in the world’s most populous Muslim nation to deliver her message and bring greetings from US President Barack Obama, who spent part of his childhood there.

“There is so much excitement in the air here,” she told an enthusiastic studio audience on the MTV-style Dahsyat show, which translates in English to “Awesome.”

Clinton said she had just spoken with Obama, who wished them all well, drawing cheers.

Much of her appearance was lighthearted banter about her favorite music — the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — and her poor singing abilities, but she also made clear that Washington wants to address Muslim concerns about US policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Asked about the topic, which has deeply troubled Indonesians, Clinton took a shot at the Bush administration when explaining why she and Obama had appointed a special envoy to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict immediately after taking office.

“We felt like the United States had not been as active in trying to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict,” she said. “We’re going to work very hard to resolve what has been such a painful and difficult conflict for so many years.”

Clinton also said she would attend a donors’ pledging conference for rebuilding Gaza to be held in Egypt on March 2.

She met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for 45 minutes yesterday, but made no official statement after the talks.

Yudhoyono’s spokesman, Dino Pati Djalal, said a formal invitation had been extended for Obama to visit, hopefully before the year’s end.

Though most of Indonesia’s 190 million Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith, public anger ran high over US policy in the Middle East and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush years, fueling a small but increasingly vocal fundamentalist fringe. The country has been hit by a string of suicide bombings targeting Western interests in recent years, but experts say an effective police crackdown has sharply reduced the threat of terrorism.

Clinton praised Indonesia for its efforts to fight terrorism while respecting human rights and for its hard-won multiethnic democracy.

She also visited a poor neighborhood in central Jakarta that has received US assistance for maternal health and childcare, sanitation and water purification. Hundreds of people lined the narrow roads to greet her.

Earlier, she announced plans to restart Peace Corps programs in Indonesia that were suspended in 1965, after volunteers were accused of espionage and expelled.

Clinton was warmly received during her two-day visit, although small and scattered protests were held in several cities, with some Islamic hardliners setting tires on fire and others throwing shoes at caricatures of the top US diplomat.

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