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Low expectations for Indo talks

Tony Abbott (L) and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) says Indonesia is Australia's most important single relationship.
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Indonesian officials are trying to dampen expectations that talks between Tony Abbott and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will clear the way for the full restoration of cooperation with Australia.

The Prime Minister will meet president Yudhoyono on the island of Batam for their first face-to-face talks in six months.

It has been almost a year since a would-be prime minister Kevin Rudd warned of “konfrontasi” or military tension over “stopping the boats”, and last November’s revelation that Australia had tried to spy on the president’s mobile phone has hardly helped.

Joint maritime patrols and some security ties between the two countries were put on hold, and tomorrow’s meeting is a sure sign of goodwill on both sides to get the relationship back to normality after last year’s tensions.

Officially, tomorrow’s talks are to “renew trust and confidence”, but Indonesian advisers have told the ABC the full restoration of ties cannot happen until the new code of conduct covering the relationship is negotiated by both countries’ foreign ministers.

Without that, they say, there will be a “handicap” – or limits on what can be discussed between the leaders tomorrow.

Neither government expects the code of conduct to be signed on Batam Island tomorrow, but both would like it to be sealed before the president’s term ends in October.

Indonesian journalists allowed to listen to Abbott phone call

The talks will be diplomatically sensitive and private, unlike the last phone conversation the two leaders shared.

The budget and an operation to intercept asylum seekers, which had the potential to “embarrass” Mr Yudhoyono, caused the Prime Minister to pull out of a trip to Indonesia last month.

But the embarrassment is not all one-way – the Prime Minister did squeeze in a phone call to the president in Bali.

Now, the ABC’s Jakarta Bureau has confirmed that as they spoke, Indonesian journalists were accidentally allowed to stay in the room.

One recorded the conversation and has posted a transcript on the internet.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is recorded proposing a June meeting with Mr Abbott.

Yudhoyono: Because that time will be the election for a new president. If we can meet before August, then we can complete everything. We can strengthen and step up our relationship even higher.

Abbott: I will prove that there is a new relationship between Indonesia and Australia as fast as possible.

Yudhoyono: I’d be glad to join, and we can meet before August … like in June. We can prove that new relationship. I believe our relationship will get stronger and benefit each other.

Top level Indonesian government sources have confirmed to the ABC that the transcripts are accurate and that allowing journalists to be there during the phone call was in their words a “mistake”.