Obama heads to Indonesia, finally

  • World
  • Tuesday, 09 Nov 2010

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama finally heads to Jakarta on Tuesday for a visit during which he will seek to boost U.S. security and trade ties with Indonesia, and also reach out to the larger Islamic world.

His visit to a country where he spent four years of his childhood comes after two previously scheduled trips were put off because of problems at home -- in March as he fought to pass his healthcare overhaul law and in June as he faced the cleanup of the massive BP oil spill.

The delays disappointed and angered some Indonesians, and even this visit had been in some doubt because of concerns about volcanic ash from repeated eruptions of Mount Merapi volcano.

Indonesia is important destination for Obama for a variety of strategic and personal reasons, aides said. Its importance as a U.S. ally is on the rise, even if the joy over Obama's election has faded since he became president almost two years ago.

Indonesia is an emerging economy, a democracy, a member of the G20 and the world's most populous Muslim country.

"We see in Indonesia the intersection of a lot of key American interests, and we see this as a partnership that is very important to the future of American interests in Asia and the world," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.

Jakarta is the second stop on Obama's 10-day four-nation Asian tour. He has spent three days in India, where his emphasis was on developing business links that could lead to U.S. jobs, and later will visit South Korea, where he attends a G20 summit and Yokohama, Japan, for an Asia-Pacific economic meeting.


Obama and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are expected to sign a "Comprehensive Partnership" they agreed to a year ago.

The pact covers security, economic and people-to-people issues, said Jeffrey Bader, Obama's top Asian adviser. Obama, who plans to return to Indonesia in 2011 for an Asian summit, is also expected to discuss plans for Yudhoyono to visit the United States.

The United States exports only about $6 billion worth of goods to Indonesia each year, making it America's 37th largest market, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Obama will also use his short stay to reach out to the Muslim world. He will visit the Istiqlal Mosque, one of the world's largest, and make a major outdoor speech that aides said is expected to draw large crowds.

First lady Michelle Obama, who accompanied Obama to India, is also making the trip to Indonesia before returning to the United States.

Obama still enjoys strong support in Indonesia, even as confidence in him has dropped in other Muslim states since he made a major speech in Cairo in June 2009. The long U.S. wars in Muslim nations Afghanistan and Iraq have soured have lost him support among Muslims, and there has been little movement on peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which has also sapped his support.

(Additional reporting by staffers in Jakarta and Singapore; Editing by David Fox)

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