By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 14 -- Condoleezza Rice, in her first visit to Indonesia as secretary of state, praised its government Tuesday for setting an example of "moderation, tolerance and inclusiveness," and for urging officials in nearby military-ruled Burma to respect human rights.
At a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, Rice defended the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies, which have aroused criticism and violent protests in many Muslim countries, including Indonesia.
"I understand that the United States has had to do things . . . that are not that popular in much of the world," she said. "We are fighting a very tough enemy, an enemy that has been felt here in Indonesia with bombings in Bali and Jakarta."
She also suggested that the United States is sometimes misunderstood, and she stressed "how much the United States respects people who are of Islamic faith." Before the news conference, Rice visited an Islamic school, where she announced an $8.5 million grant to develop a version of "Sesame Street" for Indonesia.
Meanwhile, several hundred protesters from a radical Islamic group rallied outside the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, shouting slogans against Rice and the United States.
The Bush administration has been eager to demonstrate its support for budding democracies, especially in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.
"I wish Americans could see this Islamic school," Rice told reporters, on the first day of a two-day visit. "Here you have young boys and young girls in their traditions, but learning their national curriculum, working together. . . . I'm sure they're going to be young people who are going to be very capable in the world."
The "Sesame Street" grant is part of a $157 million, five-year program to improve Indonesian education. The program, announced by President Bush on his visit to Bali in October 2003, followed terrorist bombings on the island a year earlier and at the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in August 2003. A number of the bombers convicted in those attacks were graduates of Islamic boarding schools in Indonesia.
Some Muslim civic leaders initially were wary that the program might try to change their schools' religious curriculum, but that fear seems to have waned. The program focuses on improving teachers' skills and involving parents, U.S. officials said.
In separate meetings with Wirajuda and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Rice discussed the strengthening relationship between Indonesia and the United States. In November, the Bush administration restored full military ties with Indonesia -- they had been cut in 1999 -- over the objections of human rights activists concerned about alleged abuses by the military.
But the Bush administration has great interest in ensuring that Indonesia cooperates with the United States in its battle to suppress militant strains of Islam. About 90 percent of Indonesia's 240 million people are Muslim. The country is often held up as a model of moderate Islam and of Islam's compatibility with democracy.
"Indonesia is an inspiration to those around the world who struggle with the many differences" people may have "in terms of race, ethnicity and religion," Rice said.
She said she and Indonesian leaders also discussed concerns about Burma, a country that has been under military rule for four decades. In 1990, the National League for Democracy won a landslide election in Burma, but the military did not recognize the results and has continued to suppress political dissidents.
"Great democracies, like Indonesia and like the United States, cannot turn a blind eye to those who still live under oppression," Rice said. She praised Yudhoyono and Wirajuda for their efforts "to try to convince the authorities and the junta in Burma that it is time to join the international community and to respect human rights."
Yudhoyono, in his hour-long meeting with Rice, stressed the importance of education in fighting radicalism, a senior State Department official said.
Rice was originally scheduled to visit in January but postponed the trip, citing what then appeared to be the imminent death of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He remains in a coma. On Wednesday, after making a speech here, Rice will fly to Australia.