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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > From the Under Secretary > Remarks > 2005 Under Secretary for Political Affairs Remarks

Remarks at the American-Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (AICC) Dinner in Honor of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Remarks as Prepared
New York City
September 15, 2005

Thank you, Chairman Harari. Distinguished guests, members of the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen: it is an honor to be here with you tonight. I am especially honored to introduce President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who will shortly deliver tonight’s keynote address marking the 60th anniversary of Indonesian independence.

While working on my remarks for this evening, I hoped to find the words to best express how we view America’s long and complex relationship with Indonesia, and our respect and admiration for tonight’s keynote speaker. As if he knew what I was looking for, a Member of Congress called to speak with me last week about testimony I had offered earlier that day on U.S.-Indian relations. But before hanging up he said, "Before I let you go, I just have to say something about Indonesia. You know, Indonesia’s President is one of the best friends America has in that country." He went on to praise President Yudhoyono and his commitment to peace and democratic reform. While the Executive Branch sometimes disagrees with our Congress, I told him we shared his opinion and that I planned to make America’s admiration for President Yudhoyono known this week in New York. So, I appreciate you allowing me a few moments before our guest of honor speaks, to expound upon that.

Admiration for President Yudhoyono and for Indonesia are not new for America, nor for all of you here tonight. You are all friends of Indonesia, many of you with decades of experience with that country, and know that our two great countries share much in common. We are both large, diverse countries committed to democracy, pluralism, and religious tolerance. We both recognize that free and open markets are the best way for a society to create prosperity and economic opportunity for all its people. And as all of you in this room can attest, the personal ties between our two peoples are the strongest bond of all.

Our relationship with Indonesia has always been important to the United States, and I am confident that many more Americans will come to know Indonesia better in the years ahead. Our close relationship was recently tested by one of the greatest challenge Indonesia has ever faced, the December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Sumatra, particularly the province of Aceh. We have watched and are heartened by Indonesia’s resilience in recovering from that terrible tragedy, and the government’s commitment to reaching a lasting peace agreement in Aceh. My government is proud to have contributed to the relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami and proud of our ongoing commitment to rebuilding and reconstruction in Aceh. We also look forward to assisting the Indonesian Government with the task of reintegrating former rebels to put them on a path to economic recovery.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of our country, all Americans were deeply touched by the outpouring of support from around the world, including from Indonesia. Mr. President, on behalf of the American people, I thank you and all the Indonesian people for your expressions of condolence and for your offers of assistance. Particularly touching were the condolence letters our Embassy in Jakarta received from children orphaned by the tsunami, and the $35 in small donations sent by the people of one congregation in Jayapura, a heartfelt gesture by people who don’t have much extra to share.

But helping each other after disasters like this is only one aspect of the ever deepening relationship between the United States and Indonesia. And both of our countries are fortunate to have a man like President Yudhoyono leading that relationship.

He is the first directly elected president in Indonesia’s history, a point well worth celebrating on this 60th anniversary. He achieved this by giving Indonesian voters what they asked for: a commitment to reform, economic growth and fighting corruption. While some may have resisted these steps, President Yudhoyono’s victory is a testament to the genius of democracy: a system of government where leaders are held accountable to the people. President Yudhoyono has set ambitious goals for himself and his country, and has taken steps to address human rights abuses of the past with a firm eye toward a better future. The United States supports his efforts, and is providing assistance as he works to implement his reform program. Apart from the $400 million the U.S. is providing for reconstruction in Aceh, in 2004 our governments signed the largest assistance package ever between our two countries, totaling $468 million in development assistance over the next five years.

In many ways, President Yudhoyono personifies what binds our two countries together and we’d like to think that some of his understanding of democracy comes from the time that he spent in the United States. While serving in his country’s military, he traveled to the United States for training sponsored by the U.S. Government’s International Military Education and Training program (IMET), including at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. They have not forgotten him. This week President Yudhoyono was inducted into the Ft. Leavenworth’s Hall of Fame -- the first graduate ever inducted who never became the chief of his service -- he skipped ahead to commander in chief. He also devoted his time to civilian education, with a Masters Degree in management from Webster University in Missouri, where he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws on Monday. And, of course, there is also the Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Indonesia’s most prestigious program, which he earned in 2004.

Indonesia is no stranger to the violent actions of extremists who seek to undermine free societies. President Yudhoyono understands this threat well: as Minister for Political and Security affairs from 2000 to 2004 he shaped his government’s counterterrorism policy and led its response to the Bali bombing. He knows, however, that while security and law-enforcement responses to terrorism are important, they are only one strategy. The spread of democracy across the globe is our best defense against terrorism. As President Bush has said: "a strong and secure democracy will provide an alternative to the terrorists’ ideology of hate." I know that President Yudhoyono shares this view and we all applaud his commitment to Indonesia’s democracy.

It is particularly appropriate that President Yudhoyono is tonight addressing a group devoted to strengthening the economic ties between our two countries. His program of economic reforms offers Indonesians the prospect of a brighter future, a future where the creativity and hard work of the Indonesian people are freed from the shackles of corruption.

Indonesia’s transition to democracy, and its success in implementing economic reforms, directly challenge those who preach religious extremism in the Muslim world. Indonesia stands as an example to the world that democracy and economic reform can take root and blossom in a Muslim country. As the world’ fourth most populous country, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, and a key leader in Southeast Asia, all of us have a stake in ensuring that Indonesia succeeds in this important and ambitious project.

In closing I would like to thank the American – Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and all of the corporate sponsors who have made this evening possible. The chamber works every day to strengthen the ties between our two countries and we are all grateful for their efforts.

Please join me in welcoming President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia.

Released on November 15, 2005

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