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Aide: Indonesian leader to visit White House in June

March 5, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is expected to visit the White House in early June to forge closer ties with the U.S., according to his chief of staff.

The White House has yet to announce the dates of Jokowi’s first U.S. visit since taking office in October.

He is among at least four Asian leaders that President Barack Obama is hosting this year to galvanize U.S. ties with the region. The others are Japan, South Korea and China.

Jokowi’s chief of staff, Luhut Panjaitan, has been in Washington this week to prepare for the trip, and met Wednesday with National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman at the National Security Council, said Rice reaffirmed Obama’s invite for Jokowi to visit the White House “later this year.” They discussed deepening cooperation in the areas of trade and investment, defense and intelligence, maritime affairs, education, global health security, and climate change, he said.

Panjaitan, a retired general and former campaign adviser to Jokowi, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies in an interview posted on the think tank’s website Thursday that the Indonesian leader will visit in the first week of June, hoping to create a closer relationship with Washington.

The Obama administration has made engagement with Southeast Asia a centerpiece of its attempt to rebalance its foreign policy. Indonesia is that region’s largest power and a moderate Muslim nation that has a track record of strong cooperation with the U.S. in counterterrorism. That’s become an issue of renewed concern as foreign fighters, including a number of Indonesians, gravitate toward conflicts waged by jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

Republican Rep. Ed Royce, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who met Wednesday with Panjaitan, said they discussed how U.S. and Indonesia can cooperate to respond to the threat of Islamic State group. They also talked about Indonesia’s role in the South China Sea, where territorial disputes between China and its neighbors have stoked tensions, and diplomacy to agree a code of conduct have yielded little.

Last year’s election of former furniture exporter Jokowi over a Suharto-era general was seen as a consolidation of Indonesia’s transition to democracy after decades of autocracy.

But he’s faced a turbulent start to his presidency at home and abroad. Indonesia’s relations with several nations, including U.S. ally Australia, are being roiled by his refusal to grant clemency to several foreign drug convicts facing the death penalty.

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