Obama Departs Indonesia After Appeal To Muslims

President Obama was forced to scramble his schedule in Indonesia to avoid being grounded by a cloud of volcanic ash. He left Indonesia ahead of schedule Wednesday to make his way to the G-20 summit in South Korea. Before leaving, he delivered a speech to the world's most populous Muslim country.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

A cloud of volcanic ash forced President Obama to leave Indonesia earlier than expected. But before he left, he reached out to the world's largest Muslim population.

President BARACK OBAMA: And just as individuals are not defined solely by their faith, Indonesia is defined by more than its Muslim population. But we also know that relations between the United States and Muslim communities have frayed over many years. As president, I've made it a priority to begin to repair these relations.

INSKEEP: The president was making that effort in a nation where he once lived. And before a university audience, he spoke Indonesia's motto.

Pres. OBAMA: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika. Unity in diversity.

(Soundbite of cheering)

(Soundbite of applause)

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama's visit to Indonesia comes at a difficult time for the country. The eruption of Mount Merapi has not only played havoc with air travel, but killed dozens of people and driven thousands more from their homes.

At a joint news conference yesterday, Mr. Obama praised Indonesian President Yudhoyono for his tireless rescue efforts.

Pres. OBAMA: I hope that my presence here today is a reminder that, in good times and in bad times, the United States stands as a friend with Indonesia.

HORSLEY: The President said it's wonderful to be back in Indonesia, a country where he lived for several years as a child. He also called the homecoming a little disconcerting, since the landscape has changed completely since he first arrived here in 1967.

Pres. OBAMA: As I was driving down the streets, the only building that was there when I first moved to Jakarta was Sarinah.

Unidentified Man: Sarinah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: Now it's one of the shorter buildings on the road.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: The modern skyscrapers that greeted Mr. Obama on this visit are symbols of Indonesia's rapid economic growth. That's one of the things that drew the president here. As with India, which he visited earlier on this trip, he's eager to boost U.S. exports to Indonesia.

Pres. OBAMA: President Yudhoyono and I discussed ways to create the conditions that would encourage additional trade and investment. He mentioned that we're number three right now in terms of trade volume and investment. And I informed him we don't like being number three. We want to be number one.

HORSLEY: The two Presidents also agreed to cooperate on student exchanges and efforts to fight climate change. Indonesia is the third-biggest producer of greenhouse gases, behind China and the U.S. But in order to protect itself, it set ambitious targets to cut those emissions down.

Pres. OBAMA: There's no doubt that, as an archipelago, Indonesia will be on the front lines when it comes to the potential impacts of climate change.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama also used his visit to highlight Indonesia's transition from dictatorship to democracy, and to continue his outreach to the Muslim world. This country's home to the world's biggest Muslim population, but it also has a tradition of religious pluralism - a theme that Mr. Obama highlighted in his speech today at the University of Indonesia. He also toured the biggest mosque in Southeast Asia and noted it was designed by a Christian architect.

Mr. Obama's been seeking common ground with the Islamic world in other ways: encouraging American scientists and educators to spend time in Muslim countries, and hosting Muslim entrepreneurs at workshops in the U.S.

Pres. OBAMA: What we're trying to do is to make sure that we are building bridges and expanding our interactions with Muslim countries so that they're not solely focused on security issues.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama called that outreach an incomplete project, and admitted it's no substitute for tough dialogue on thorny issues. One of those issues surfaced yesterday, at the news conference with Indonesian President Yudhoyono.

President SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO (Indonesia): (Foreign language spoken)

HORSLEY: Yudhoyono said Indonesia's position on Israel and the Palestinians is clear: What's needed is a resolution, with an independent state for Palestinians living at peace with their Israeli neighbors.

Mr. Obama said Israel's published plan to build a thousand new housing units in Jerusalem does not advance that two-state solution.

Pres. OBAMA: This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations. And, you know, I'm concerned that we're not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama said the U.S. would nevertheless keep working towards a peaceful solution, saying it's in the interest of Israel, the Palestinians and the world - something that was evident even on this island nation far from the Middle East.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Jakarta.

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