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Australia, Indonesia talk defence
Australia's new Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Defence Minister Stephen Smith have met their Indonesian counterparts in Canberra for the inaugural 2+2 dialogue.

It is just as well Australia's new Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, has had a lifelong passion for international relations because he's had little time to work his way into his new job.

Just 48 hours after he was sworn in, Senator Carr took part in the inaugural Australia-Indonesia Two-Plus-Two Ministerial Meeting, along with Defence Minister Stephen Smith and their Indonesian counterparts.

There was plenty to talk about, headed by the implications for the Asia Pacific of Australia's recent decision to allow the United States to base troops in northern Australia.

Political editor, Catherine McGrath.
CATHERINE MCGRATH, REPORTER: It was the job of Australia's new Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, and Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, to welcome their Indonesian counterparts to Canberra for the first of the so called Two-Plus-Two Ministerial Meetings.

Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, knows Australia well. He studied for his PhD at the Australian National University and he's formed strong ties with previous Australian foreign ministers.

Defence minister, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, is an engineer by training and the country's former energy minister.

PURNOMO YUSIGANTORO, INDONESIAN DEFENCE MINISTER: You have to tell which one is the shortest.

(All laugh)


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Australia has held meetings at this level previously only with the United States, Britain and Japan.

BOB CARR, AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: What happens in Indonesia and how Indonesia sees the world is hugely important for Australia. It was my friend Paul Keating who put it this way, quote, "no country is more important to Australia than Indonesia. If we fail to get this relationship right, and nurture and develop it, the whole web of our foreign relations is in complete."

MARTY NATALEGAWA, INDONESIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Indonesia would like to describe our relations with Australia as being strong, as being solid, and as being critically important.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: The two countries are close friends, but there are tensions also. When US president, Barack Obama, came to Australia, and announced the stationing of US troops near Darwin, Indonesia was concerned. It has a policy, along with its South East Asian neighbours, of not supporting foreign troops in the region.

This is what Indonesia's foreign minister said about the US-Australian agreement back then.

DR MARTY NATALEGAWA: And that's why it is very important when decisions of this types are taken there is a transparency of what the scenario being envisaged is or are, and that there's no misunderstanding as a result.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: After the ministerial talks the first question from the Indonesian media was about this issue, and whether the presence of US Marines would create regional tensions.

Minister Carr said no, the presence could assist the region.

BOB CARR: And we had an enormously useful discussion on using that US presence to build a multilateral response in disasters.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: The Indonesian side hasn't changed its position, but it is listening to the Australian view, and is open to engagements in humanitarian relief if the presence of US Marines can and is used for that benefit.

MARTY NATALEGAWA: If indeed one of the potential benefits of such a force would be to address challenges such as human - disaster response capacity, we should try to make that happen.

PURNOMO YUSIGANTORO: And we're going to optimise the presence of the US Marines for the humanitarian assistance and relief. And in the Two-and-Two meetings we had this morning we also planned to proceed with this kind of exercise.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Australia's Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, says more exercises are also possible.

STEPHEN SMITH: But we don't discount in the longer term, as a result of the presence of US marine taskforce group rotationally in the Northern Territory, that in due course we couldn't see not just exercises by them, not just exercises with Australian forces, but also exercises with other countries in our region, particularly in the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief area.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: On the asylum seeker issue Indonesia has continued to oppose Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's plan to turn back the boats and return asylum seekers heading for Australia to Indonesia.

MARTY NATALEGAWA: It would be impossible and not advisable even to simply shift the nature of the challenge from one end of the continuum to the other.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Earlier in the visit, Marty Natalegawa addressed students at his alma mater, the ANU, speaking about Indonesia's road to democracy since 1998.

MARTY NATALEGAWA: And we in Indonesia have been trying to manage that process in as good a manner as possible.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: In the audience was West Papuan student, Yusef Sawaki, who put a question to the foreign minister about West Papua.

YUSEF SAWAKI, STUDENT: We all know that West Papua is a big issue with Indonesia. So that's why I feel like I have to come and then at least ask questions about what's going on in West Papua.

JULIA GILLARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER (to Purnomo Yusigantoro): It's lovely to be able to see you again.

PURNOMO YUSIGANTORO: We had a very good this morning. We appreciate it.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: The Australian Government recognised and reaffirmed in the meetings support for Indonesia's territorial integrity. It is a concept supported in writing by the Lombok Treaty.
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