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Page last updated at 12:36 GMT, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

US pledges stronger Jakarta ties

By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Jakarta

Hillary Clinton spoke after meeting the Indonesian foreign minister

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has praised Indonesia for showing that "Islam, democracy and modernity" can thrive together.

She spoke in the capital, Jakarta, on the second leg of her Asian tour, after talks with counterpart Hassan Wirajuda.

The two discussed building ties on issues such as climate change, trade, security and counter-terrorism.

Mrs Clinton said Indonesia shared both interests and values with the US, and had an important global role to play.

"Building a comprehensive partnership with Indonesia is a critical step on behalf of the United States' commitment to smart power," she said.

What Mrs Clinton did not say much about, however, was what exactly she would like Indonesia's role to be.

Nor did she spell out the details of her government's "new way forward" in relations with the Muslim world.

She did bring greetings from President Barack Obama, who spent some of his childhood in Indonesia.

She said that experience had given Mr Obama insight into how people from different backgrounds can live together. "It's no accident that I'm here," she said.

Powerful symbolism

During her brief visit, she is also scheduled to meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and regional representatives.

Hillary Clinton arrives in Indonesia on 18 February 2009
Hillary Clinton was welcomed by school children as she landed in Jakarta

The visit by America's top diplomat is being carefully watched for signs of a new US policy towards the Muslim world, and a new engagement with South East Asia.

The symbolism of this visit is powerful - her first visit as secretary of state to a Muslim majority country; a stable, democratic country, half a world away from the Middle East.

Relations between the two governments grew markedly under former President George W Bush, with the normalisation of military ties and co-operation on counter-terrorism, following a series of bomb attacks by Islamist groups here.

But attitudes hardened among the population in general, as a result of US policies in the Middle East, and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

That is still what defines most attitudes here. And many people say they are waiting to see what real changes Mr Obama will bring.



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