Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Oz spies 'hacked president's phone'

Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa speaks out over claims that Australia tapped President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's mobile phone.

Indonesia's president has stepped up pressure on Australia over claims that its neighbour tapped his mobile phone calls, saying the action was deplorable and vowing to review joint agreements.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said today in a Bahasa language tweet confirmed by his office: "I also deplore the statement of Australian prime minister who underestimates the wire-tapping of Indonesia, without sense of guilt."

A later English tweet used the word regret instead of deplore and said the statement "belittled this tapping matter on Indonesia, without any remorse".

Indonesia had already announced that it was recalling its ambassador from Australia following reports that Australian spies attempted to listen to the president's cellphone in 2009.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation and The Guardian reported that they had documents from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden showing that the top-secret Australian Signals Directorate also targeted the phones of Indonesian first lady Kristiani Herawati and another eight government ministers and officials.

Mr Yudhoyono tweeted that Indonesia wanted an official response from Australia "that can be understood by the public".

"We will also review a number of bilateral co-operation agreements as a consequence of this hurtful action by Australia," he said.

Mr Abbott earlier declined to publicly comment on the diplomatic row for fear of inflaming the division in what he described as Australia's most important bilateral relationship.

"Obviously today may not be the best day in that relationship, but nevertheless we do have a very good and strong relationship with Indonesia," he said.

"It's in no one's interest to do anything or to say anything that would jeopardise that relationship and certainly I'm not going to."

Australia's foreign minister Julie Bishop said her government took "exceedingly seriously" Indonesian concerns about the allegations, but told reporters in India that she would not publicly discuss her country's espionage activities..

"We are aware of their concerns, and we take them exceedingly seriously, but I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters," she said.

Indonesian ambassador Nadjib Riphat Kesoema left the Australian capital Canberra for Jakarta, urging the Australian government to come clean on the spying episode. "I think a good explanation will be the best way ... to ease the problem," he said at the airport.

The diplomatic spat is the second in less than a month between Indonesia and Australia stemming from Mr Snowden's revelations linking Australia with US espionage.

It's an early test for Australian prime minister Tony Abbott's government, which was elected in September and is anxious to cement ties with it populous near-neighbour before the uncertainty of Indonesian presidential elections next year.

Australia wants to increase co-operation with Indonesia to solve a politically sensitive problem of asylum seekers paying human traffickers to bring them by boat from the Indonesian archipelago to Australian shores.

Former US assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs, Kurt Campbell, described the recall of the Indonesian ambassador as "pretty significant".

"I'm afraid you're in for a few uncomfortable months in your bilateral relationship," he told ABC.

"It's going to be difficult, particularly given how much Prime Minister Abbott has made of how he wants to refashion the relationship with Indonesia."

Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said the onus was on Australia to explain what happened and to make a commitment that it would never happen again.

"In short, it has not been a good day in the Indonesia-Australia relationship," he said.

AP

Mr Abbott told Parliament today he regretted any embarrassment that the spying reports had caused Mr Yudhoyono, but ruled out Indonesian demands for an apology and explanation.

"I regard President Yudhoyono as a good friend of Australia, indeed as one of the very best friends that we have anywhere in the world," he said. "That's why ... I sincerely regret any embarrassment that recent media reports have caused him."

Without confirming or denying the truth of reports of spying in 2009, Mr Abbott endorsed Australia's intelligence gathering in that era before he was elected to government.

"National security ... requires a consistent determination to do what's best for Australia and that's why this government will support the national security decisions of previous ones, as we will expect future governments to respect ours," he said.

"Australia should not be expected to apologise for the steps we take to protect our country now or in the past, any more than other governments should be expected to apologise for the similar steps that they have taken."

Mr Abbott also made similar comments to those already condemned by Mr Yudhoyono as remorsely belittling the tapping controversy.

"The first duty of every government is to protect the country and to advance its national interests," he said. "That's why every government gathers information and why every government knows that every other government gathers information."

AP

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