(AFP) – Oct 28, 2010
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama will visit the largest mosque in Jakarta and make a major outdoor speech when he makes his twice-postponed visit to Indonesia next month, the White House said.
Obama, who spent four years in the country as a boy, will stress that Indonesia is at the intersection of US efforts to reach out to the Muslim world and to connect with dynamic, fast-growing southeast Asian economies.
The president will arrive in Indonesia on November 9 after visiting India, and will have a talks and a press conference with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the White House said.
The next day, he will honor the Heroes Day holiday, marking a key battle in Indonesia's independence struggle, then visit the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, before making a speech, for which US officials are seeking an outdoor venue.
"He'll have a chance to talk about the partnership that we're building with Indonesia," said Ben Rhodes, a US deputy national security advisor, noting that Obama was "popular" in Jakarta because of his boyhood stay.
The president will also "talk about some of the themes of democracy and development and our outreach to Muslim communities around the world, while also speaking of Indonesia's pluralism and tolerance as well."
Obama's speech may become his most high profile chance to discourse on US relations with Islam in a foreign country since his landmark speech to the world's Muslims in Cairo in June 2009.
Rhodes cautioned against the idea that Obama needed to renew his commitment for a "new beginning" with Islam, after a furor over plans to build an Islamic cultural center near the site of the September 11 attacks in New York.
He said that Obama frequently visited mosques on his travels to Muslim majority nations, and had always intended to visit the Istiqlal mosque.
The visit will follow reports that the White House cancelled plans for Obama to visit the Sikh Golden temple in Amritsar, India as he would have to wear headgear that could fan erroneous claims by critics that he is a Muslim.
US officials have not directly responded to the reports, saying instead that the president's schedule was tightly compacted and dictated by his goals for each leg of a foreign trip and not other concerns.
Jeffrey Bader, Obama's top Asia policy hand, said that the president would formally launch a US-Indonesia comprehensive partnership, designed to deepen cooperation on political, security and economic issues, in Jakarta.
"We have tried to highlight Indonesia's growing importance in this administration," Bader said, noting Indonesia's membership of the G20, its status as the largest Muslim-majority nation and key role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Obama had planned to visit Indonesia twice before this year, but was forced to cancel in March as he pushed for final passage of his health care law and in June after an environmental disaster unfolded around the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
But his schedule in his one-night stay will be so packed in Indonesia that he will be unable to visit many of his boyhood haunts that he had hoped to show his family.
Obama's wife, First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to travel to Indonesia, but his daughters will stay at home as they will be at school.
Obama lived with his late mother and step father for four years in Indonesia and has spoken of his warm feelings for the country.
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