JAKARTA - Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel held talks in Indonesia on Monday as part of a tour to bolster US ties with Southeast Asia but a confrontation with Syria threatened to overshadow the trip.
As part of a week-long tour of the region, Hagel met President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta before scheduled discussions with his counterpart, Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro.
While the trip is meant to highlight Washington’s strategic “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific after a decade of war, an escalating showdown with the Syrian regime over its suspected use of chemical weapons has demanded Hagel’s attention since he arrived in the region last week.
With President Barack Obama weighing possible military action, Hagel has been taking part in White House crisis meetings via video link from his plane and hotel.
“I bring you greetings from President Obama,” Hagel told Yudhoyono at the start of their meeting.
Referring to Obama’s upcoming visit to the Indonesian island of Bali for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, Hagel said the US president was “looking forward to seeing you in October”.
He added that Washington was committed to “deepening and strengthening” ties between the two countries.
Obama spent part of his childhood in Indonesia and has called for improved ties with the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, which has embraced democracy since the downfall of dictator Suharto in 1998.