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Indonesia: former Foreign Minister says relations with Australia should rely on quiet diplomacy rather than public statements.

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LINDA MOTTRAM: Ali Alatas, Indonesia’s long-time former Foreign Minister, has weighed in on the sensitive state of Australia’s relations with his country. Mr Alatas has called on Prime Minister, John Howard, to be more careful about his handling of Indonesia’s concerns about the US-led bombing of Afghanistan. Mr Alatas is in Melbourne today for a speaking engagement and he has accused Australia of continuing to use megaphone diplomacy. Mr Alatas has been speaking to Michelle Fonseca.


ALI ALATAS: Both sides should, if possible, refrain from making statements publicly about issues without first consulting each other through quiet diplomacy.


MICHELLE FONSECA: You have said Prime Minister John Howard has been overly critical of Indonesia’s stance on the American bombing campaign. Is he out of line to make any commentary on your country’s response?


ALI ALATAS: Unfortunately, his remarks seem to be based on a misperception, on a misunderstanding, of what the Indonesian stand really was. There was no back-tracking as to the basic position of Indonesia with regard to international terrorism and our pledge to fight it together with the others. There was a difference of opinion which we conveyed in a friendly way to the Americans with regard to the method of combating terrorism.


MICHELLE FONSECA: Relations between the Howard government and Indonesia have hit a low ebb over the past few weeks. Do you believe the relationship is salvageable, and what will it take?


ALI ALATAS: I think that there are strong foundations for it to improve again provided that both sides do certain things, avoid other things, and really concentrate on widening the areas of interest, areas of cooperation within our two countries.


MICHELLE FONSECA: The Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, has been emphasising the fact that he thinks only a Labor government could improve dialogue between the two countries. Do you think he’s got it wrong there?


ALI ALATAS: I don’t want to enter into this Labor-Liberal debate on the eve of the elections. I am talking in general terms about Australian-Indonesian relations and with Australia—any government. That is the choice of the Australian people.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Indonesia’s former Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas.