Jakarta Globe & Agencies
US President Barack Obama is delaying his trip to Indonesia next week to focus on pushing through key health care reforms at home.
US media reported that the White House made the announcement on the Twitter feed of the press secretary, Robert Gibbs.
“The President will delay leaving for Indonesia and Australia — will now leave Sunday — the First Lady and the girls will not be on the trip,” Gibbs wrote.
A senior administration official also told The Associated Press that Obama now planned to leave Washington on March 21 and return March 26. The original dates were March 18-24.
Obama will visit the same countries as planned: Indonesia, Guam and Australia. The trip was scheduled to coincide with his daughters’ spring vacation, but it now appears the president’s family will not accompany him.
On Thursday, Gibbs had said Obama would not delay the trip, even if lawmakers failed to satisfy White House hopes for a crucial House of Representatives vote on the health care bill by March 18.
“The president believes it is an extremely important trip, it’s an important region of the world, and these are important partners,” Gibbs said. “Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, obviously has seen, as many countries including ours have seen, the impacts of horrific terrorist activities.”
Gibbs also said Obama would attend a conference on the promotion of democracy and use his stay to build on a speech he gave last year to the Islamic world from Cairo urging better ties with the United States.
The visit comes amid a new antiterrorism campaign launched by Indonesian police that has so far netted 31 terrorist suspects and killed eight, including Dulmatin, one of the most wanted terrorists in the region whom the US State Department had placed a $10 million bounty on.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month that her country wanted more counterterrorism and military cooperation with Indonesia. But she told lawmakers that America must make sure that human rights abuses did not resume.
She said the Obama administration believed it was possible to satisfy US laws and expand cooperation with a country that had been subject to American sanctions over past human rights abuses.
US officials had earlier suggested the Defense Department was seeking to provide training for the Indonesian Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus), members of which have in the past been implicated in serious human rights violations. US training for Kopassus has been restricted for more than a decade because of concerns about its human rights record and lack of accountability over abuses.
In the US State Department’s 2009 Country Report on Human Rights Practices released on Thursday, the US government noted Indonesia’s respect for human rights in general over the past year, but said problems remained. As in previous years, it highlighted as ongoing problems killings by security forces, harsh prison conditions, judicial corruption, violence and sexual abuse against women and children, people trafficking, child labor and failure to enforce labor standards and worker rights.