Obama pledges closer ties on return to Indonesia

US president’s visit might be cut short because of Mount Merapi volcanic ash.

The US and Indonesia are to expand co-operation on economic issues, security and climate change, the presidents of both countries have said, according to BBC News. US President Barack Obama said the US and Indonesia would expand trade relationships and increase prosperity. He criticised the recent elections in Burma and called for the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Obama, who lived in Indonesia in his youth, will also speak at South East Asia’s largest mosque while in Jakarta. The speech, to be delivered on Wednesday, will be his most high-profile attempt to engage the Islamic world since a landmark speech in Cairo in June 2009. However, the White House says the president will probably have to cut short his visit by a few hours because of concerns over volcanic ash from Mount Merapi, which could disrupt flights.

Speaking in Jakarta, Obama said he had worked hard to repair ties with Muslim communities but warned that some “misunderstandings and mistrust” were likely to remain. In a wide-ranging news conference, he also criticised Israel’s plan to build apartments for Jewish settlers in disputed East Jerusalem. “This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” Obama said. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed in September after a break of almost two years but were suspended after a few weeks when a freeze on the building of Jewish settlements expired.

Obama has twice postponed this visit because of domestic problems. He is also visiting at a time when Indonesia is trying to recover from two natural disasters – the eruption of Mt Merapi, which has killed more than 130 people, and a tsunami that struck the Mentawai islands, killing more than 400 people and forcing thousands into emergency shelters.

On Wednesday, the president will leave for South Korea, where he will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul. Obama is to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao while both are in South Korea. The U.S. president also is to deliver a speech to U.S. troops in South Korea on Thursday, the Veterans Day holiday in the United States. Obama’s Seoul visit will include a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and a news conference. The U.S. president will leave South Korea for Japan on Thursday. In Japan, Obama will speak at a CEO Business Summit that is part of an Asia-Pacific Economic Council summit. Obama’s packed schedule includes other APEC events and bilateral talks with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Obama will head back to the United States on Sunday.

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