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Clinton hammers Obama message home in Asia

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hammered home Obama admin's message that America is ready to listen and engage the world.

Written by Associated Press | Jakarta | Published: February 19, 2009 9:35:05 am

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday relentlessly hammered home the Obama administration’s message that America is under new management and ready to listen and engage the world.

On the second leg of a weeklong tour of Asia,Clinton took to the airwaves,appearing on the most popular youth show in the world’s most populous Muslim nation to deliver her message and bring greetings from President Barack Obama,who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia.

“There is so much excitement in the air here,” she told an enthusiastic studio audience on the MTV-style “Dahsyat” show,which translates in English to “Awesome.” She said she had just spoken with Obama who wished them all well,drawing cheers.

Much of her appearance was light-hearted banter about her favourite music – the Beatles and Rolling Stones – and her poor singing abilities,but she also made clear that Washington wants to address

Muslim concerns about US policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Asked about the topic,which has deeply troubled Indonesians,she took a shot at the Bush administration when explaining why she and Obama had appointed a special envoy to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict immediately after taking office.

“We felt like the United States had not been as active in trying to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict,” she said.

“We’re going to work very hard to resolve what has been such a painful and difficult conflict for so many years.”

Clinton also said she would attend a donors’ pledging conference for rebuilding Gaza to be held in Egypt on March 2.

Though most of Indonesia’s 190 million Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith,public anger ran high over US policy in the Middle East and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush years,fuelling a small but increasingly vocal fundamentalist fringe.

Clinton was also praised Indonesia for its hard-won multiethnic democracy and efforts to fight terrorism while respecting human rights. “I have a great feeling about what Indonesia has accomplished,” she said.

Her message was received warmly as it was by officials in Jakarta a day earlier,although small and scattered protests were held in several cities,with some Islamic hard-liners setting tires on fire and others throwing shoes at caricatures of Clinton.

After talks with Indonesian officials on Wednesday,Clinton said her choice of Asia for her first overseas trip as top US diplomat was “no accident” and a sign of a desire for broader and deeper relations with Indonesia,Southeast Asia and the rest of the continent on regional and global issues.

Clinton,who arrived from a stop in Japan,heads later Thursday to South Korea and China,announced plans to restart Peace Corps programs in Indonesia. The programs were suspended in 1965 after volunteers were accused of espionage and expelled.

And she said the two countries would cooperate on climate change,trade,education,regional security and a host of other issues,while indicating that more development aid was on the way in a news conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda.

Wirajuda said Indonesia could be a powerful bridge to help the United States reconnect with Muslims. “As we have proven,democracy,Islam and modernity can go hand-in-hand,” he said.

“Indonesia can be a good partner for the US in reaching out to the Muslim world.”

Indonesia,a secular nation of 235 million people,has personal ties for Obama,who spent four years here as a child. In her television appearance on Thursday,Clinton pointed out that she had met some children from Obama’s former elementary school,who she said “were adorable” as they sang and waved Indonesian and US flags on her arrival.

Wirajuda said Indonesia would welcome a presidential visit from Obama,but neither he nor Clinton would say if an invitation had been extended.

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