Australian minister concedes 'no breakthrough' with Jakarta

Australian minister concedes 'no breakthrough' with Jakarta
Australian Defence Minister David Johnston.

JAKARTA - Australia's defence minister conceded Wednesday during a visit to Jakarta there was still no "breakthrough" in improving relations with Indonesia which have been damaged by a row over spying.

Ties between Jakarta and Canberra have sunk to their lowest point for years following allegations that Australian spies tried to tap the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle.

The spying claims, which emerged in news reports in November, prompted Indonesia to recall its ambassador and halt cooperation on people-smuggling and with Australia's military.

During a visit to Jakarta for an annual defence conference, Defence Minister David Johnston insisted the relationship remained "very close, very friendly".

"The senior leadership on both sides has a very close working relationship," said Johnston, who was due to hold talks with his Indonesian counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro later in the day.

However he conceded that the relationship with Jakarta was at a "go-slow", adding: "I don't think we are in a breakthrough situation." Indonesia has demanded that Australia agree on a code of conduct before ties can return to normal, and officials are in the process of trying to hammer one out.

Jakarta has also been angered by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's policies on stemming the flow of asylum-seekers.

Canberra has established a military-led operation to stop the boatpeople arriving, a flashpoint political issue in Australia, which sees the navy turning boats back to Indonesia when it is safe to do so.

Jakarta has halted cooperation with Canberra on the issue, but Johnston insisted: "People-smuggling is a serious problem in our region and Australia is really keen to work with Indonesia."

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