Mattis, Retno discuss Palestine, US aid cut to UNRWA

United States Defence Secretary James Mattis meeting Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in Jakarta on Jan 22. PHOTO: KEMLU

JAKARTA - Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has reiterated to the United States the importance of its support for the peace process between Israel and the Palestine, and any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a two-state one.

"The position of Indonesia has been very clear and firm in supporting the Palestinian struggle until the realisation of Palestinian independence," said Ms Retno in a statement released after a meeting with US Defence Secretary James Mattis at the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta on Monday (Jan 22).

Her comments comes after US President Donald Trump's decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, as well as last Thursday's (Jan 18) announcement that the US State Department will not provide the US$45 million (S$59.4 million) in food aid for Palestinians that it pledged last month as part of the West Bank/Gaza Emergency Appeal led by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Ms Retno on Monday told Mr Mattis that Indonesia hopes that the US would reconsider its decision to cut its contribution to the UNRWA, which is important for Palestinian refugees in dire need of proper education and healthcare.

"This aid cut will harm and negatively impact the peace process that has been built in Palestine," she added.

Mr Mattis and Ms Retno also discussed efforts to create an eco-system of peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, and why it remains important for the US to contribute to strengthening continual dialogue and mutual trust in the region.

The former commander of US Central Command is in Indonesia as part of a week-long tour of Asia, which also includes a visit to Vietnam, in hope of strengthening defence cooperation with both countries as China expands its military reach in the South China Sea.

He is scheduled to meet with President Joko Widodo, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto, Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu as well as Indonesia's Defence chief Hadi Tjahjanto on Tuesday.

"We share the Pacific - it's an ocean named for peace - and we would like to see it remain peaceful, so all the nations that use it and live here are prosperous," Mr Mattis told reporters accompanying him on a military plane on Sunday, reported Agence France-Presse earlier.

Countering the threat posed by China and Russia is central to the new US national defence strategy document, which analysts said was a sign of a shift in its priorities after more than 15 years focusing on the fight against Islamic extremism.

An unclassified, 11-page version of the document the Pentagon released last Friday said: "It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model - gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic and security decisions."

The US military must regain its strategic advantages over Russia and China and prioritise being ready for war, Mr Mattis had said last week as he unveiled the Pentagon's vision for the future.

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