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Rice Visiting Indonesia to Discuss Terrorism, Middle East

The U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begins a two-day visit to Indonesia Tuesday that is expected to focus on terrorism, Hamas and the Middle East, and strengthening political ties.

Secretary Condoleezza Rice is making her first visit to Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population.

During her two-day stay Rice will meet with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and key government officials.

Presidential Spokesman Dino Djalal says Jakarta hopes the talks will strengthen ties.

"The one thing that we hope to do is to boost the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and the United States. And also to engage in discussions about regional and international issues," said Dino. "The visit has been billed as a new relationship subsequent to the lifting of the military restrictions by the U.S. government recently."

The U.S. cut ties with the Indonesian military in 1999 after military-backed militias rampaged across East Timor, killing more than 1,000 people, as the country voted for independence from Indonesia.

But Washington has eased military restrictions against Indonesia over the past year in an effort to help the country fight terrorism.

Indonesia has suffered a series of bomb attacks since 2002 that have killed more than 200 people and been blamed on the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah. Jakarta has captured and prosecuted more than 200 people for terrorist activities.

Before leaving the United States, Rice said she would also discuss the situation in the Middle East with Indonesia. Washington wants Indonesia to use its influence with the new Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Hamas leaders have refused to renounce violence or recognize Israel's right to exist, as demanded by the European Union, the United States, Russia, and the United Nations.

Indonesia has no ties with Israel and staunchly supports the Palestinian cause, but government spokesman Dino says Jakarta supports initiatives for peace in the Middle East.

"Indonesia and U.S. share the common goal of achieving peace in the Middle East," said Dino. "We support the road map drawn by the quartet to achieve permanent peace in the Middle East. And we will be ready to contribute in any way we can to promote that peace."

Rice's talks in Indonesia are also expected to cover the economic rise of China and its impact on the region, as well as efforts to tackle bird flu.