Indonesian President Joko Widodo has pressed his United States counterpart Joe Biden to do more to end “atrocities” in Gaza and help bring about a ceasefire.
The two leaders’ talks on Monday were overshadowed by the month-long Israel-Hamas war in which the US has given Israel its full support.
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Widodo, who is popularly known as Jokowi, attended a joint summit of Arab and Muslim leaders in Riyadh at the weekend which condemned Israel and called for a ceasefire.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country and has seen large protests in support of the Palestinians as well as a boycott of businesses seen as linked to Israel.
“Indonesia appeals to the US to do more to stop the atrocities in Gaza,” Widodo said in the Oval Office as the two presidents met in the White House in front of a roaring fire.
“A ceasefire is a must for the sake of humanity.”
Violence erupted on October 7 after the armed group Hamas, which controls Gaza, launched a surprise assault on Israel killing about 1,200 people and taking more than 200 captive. In response Israel imposed a total blockade on Gaza and has been bombarding the Gaza Strip ever since, killing at least 11,000 Palestinians.
US officials have said Biden is keen for Indonesia to “play a larger role” in the Middle East, which could include the “ceasefire issue” but also long-term goals such as a two-state solution after the war and rebuilding Gaza.
While Washington has thrown its full support behind Israel, it has more recently begun calling for more restraint and “pauses” in the fighting that would allow the delivery of humanitarian aid or the release of the captives held by Hamas.
‘New era of relations’
The Jokowi-Biden meeting comes ahead of talks between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as a key summit of leaders from APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation), which is taking place in San Francisco. China and Indonesia are both members of APEC.
The US aims to upgrade cooperation with Indonesia to a so-called comprehensive strategic partnership, the highest diplomatic level, as it deepens alliances in the Asia Pacific region. Biden unveiled a similar upgrade to ties with Vietnam on a visit to Hanoi in September.
“This will mark a new era of relations between the United States and Indonesia across the board, affecting everything,” Biden said as he sat next to Jokowi.
The deepening crisis in Myanmar was also up for discussion. The country was plunged into turmoil in February 2021, when the military seized power from the government of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Fighting between the military and armed groups fighting against the coup has intensified in the past couple of weeks.
The US and other mainly Western countries have imposed sanctions but the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while banning Myanmar’s top generals from its summits, has had little success in holding the military to account. Indonesia is the outgoing chair of the 10-member grouping that welcomed Myanmar as a member some 25 years ago with Laos next to take the helm.
“It’s going to be time soon for us to think about what our next steps are together to deal with a situation that is untenable,” the officials told Reuters.
Biden and Jokowi’s talks also covered new cooperation in areas of defence such as cybersecurity, and space as well as climate with the US due to announce steps with the Southeast Asian country on carbon capture and storage, supporting the electricity grid and improving air quality.
Amid rising geopolitical tension, Jokowi was keen to stress Indonesia’s long-held neutrality.
“Indonesia is always open to cooperate with any country, and not to take the side of any power, except to take the side of peace and humanity,” he said.