Indonesian Leader Deplores Statement by Aussie PM

By Ali Kotarumalos & Rod Mcguirk 19 November 2013

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s president stepped up the pressure on Australia on Tuesday over allegations its neighbor tapped calls from his phone, saying the action was deplorable and will lead to a review of cooperation agreements.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in an Indonesian language tweet confirmed by his office said: “I also deplore the statement of Australian Prime Minister who underestimates the wiretapping of Indonesia, without sense of guilt.”

A later English tweet used the word regret instead of deplore, and said the statement “belittled this tapping matter on Indonesia, without any remorse.”

Indonesia had already announced on Monday that it was recalling its ambassador from Australia following reports that Australian spies attempted to listen to the president’s cellphone in 2009.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. and The Guardian reported that they had documents from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden showing that the top-secret Australian Signals Directorate also targeted the phones of Indonesian first lady Kristiani Herawati and eight other government ministers and officials.

Yudhoyono tweeted that Indonesia wanted an official response from Australia “that can be understood by the public.”

“We will also review a number of bilateral cooperation agreements as a consequence of this hurtful action by Australia.”

Indonesian Presidential Spokesman for Foreign Affairs Teuku Faizasyah confirmed the tweets.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament Tuesday he regretted any embarrassment that the spying reports had caused Yudhoyono, but ruled out Indonesian demands for an apology and explanation.

“I regard President Yudhoyono as a good friend of Australia, indeed as one of the very best friends that we have anywhere in the world,” Abbott said. “That’s why … I sincerely regret any embarrassment that recent media reports have caused him.”

Without confirming or denying the truth of reports of spying in 2009, Abbott endorsed Australia’s intelligence gathering in that era before he was elected to government.

“National security … requires a consistent determination to do what’s best for Australia and that’s why this government will support the national security decisions of previous ones, as we will expect future governments to respect ours,” he said.

“Australia should not be expected to apologize for the steps we take to protect our country now or in the past, any more than other governments should be expected to apologize for the similar steps that they have taken,” he said.

Abbott also made similar comments to those already condemned by Yudhoyono as remorsely belittling the tapping controversy.

“The first duty of every government is to protect the country and to advance its national interests,” Abbott said. “That’s why every government gathers information and why every government knows that every other government gathers information.”

Indonesian Ambassador Nadjib Riphat Kesoema left the Australian capital Canberra on Tuesday morning for Jakarta, urging the Australian government to come clean on the spying episode.

“I think a good explanation will be the best way … to ease the problem,” Kesoema told reporters at Canberra airport.

The diplomatic spat is the second in less than a month between Indonesia and Australia stemming from Snowden’s revelations linking Australia with U.S. espionage.

It’s an early test for Abbott’s government, which was elected in September and is anxious to cement ties with it populous near-neighbor before the uncertainty of Indonesian presidential elections next year.

Australia wants to increase cooperation with Indonesia to solve a politically sensitive problem of asylum seekers paying human traffickers to bring them by boat from the Indonesian archipelago to Australian shores.