Abbott Calls for Indonesia Security Talks After Spy Claim

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australia wants to create a “security round table” with Indonesia as its neighbor pledged to assign a senior official for talks, a sign that tensions over spying claims are easing.

The Australia-Indonesia relationship “does depend on a great deal of intelligence-sharing and I want to deepen and extend that in the weeks and months ahead,” Abbott told reporters in Melbourne today. The dispute could ultimately create ways of deepening the nations’ friendship, he said.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono halted cooperation with Abbott’s government on asylum seekers and military operations after withdrawing his ambassador from Canberra last week, as tensions between the two countries reached their highest point in 14 years. Abbott has written to Yudhoyono as he seeks to repair relations after claims the phones of Indonesia’s leaders were tapped.

Indonesia wants to discuss establishing a code of conduct with Australia on intelligence and Abbott’s government still needs to clarify some issues, Yudhoyono told reporters in Jakarta last night. He said he will assign Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa or a special envoy for talks with Australia in the wake of the tensions.

“Both sides are now looking for ways to defuse the issue while saving face after realizing it’s in their national and economic interests not to be at loggerheads,” said Andrew Hughes, who conducts political-marketing research at Australian National University in Canberra. “Abbott will be hoping there are no more revelations on his nation’s intelligence activities to come.”

‘Regain Trust’

Talks are a precondition to drafting a code of ethics for cooperation, Yudhoyono said. Once that’s in place, “bilateral cooperation that is mutually beneficial can be resumed, including cooperation in the military and police of both countries,” he said.

“Trusted envoys” from the nations should meet in the next few days, Abbott said today. Trade links shouldn’t be damaged by the dispute, he said.

Yudhoyono’s mobile phone activity was tracked for 15 days in August 2009, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said on its website Nov. 18, citing documents leaked by U.S. whistle blower Edward Snowden. At least once, intelligence agencies tried to listen to a conversation though the call lasted less than a minute and couldn’t be tapped, it said.

Abbott’s comments come as the fallout from the spying allegations spreads throughout Southeast Asia. Malaysia yesterday summoned Singapore’s high commissioner after the Sydney Morning Herald reported, again citing documents leaked by Snowden, that the city-state had helped Australian and U.S. intelligence gathering on Indonesia and Malaysia since the 1970s.

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