The United States has refused to allow Indonesia to interrogate the suspected terrorist leader Hambali, despite warnings that new attacks planned by him in South-East Asia may be imminent.
But Indonesia's senior security minister, Bambang Yudhoyono, visiting Washington, did achieve a compromise to allow his police and intelligence officers to submit a list of questions through US interrogators, who have been interviewing Hambali at a secret location since his capture last month in a joint operation between the CIA and Thai authorities.
Mr Yudhoyono has met the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, the Deputy Defence Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, and the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to discuss co-operation in tackling terrorism and the Hambali case.
Hambali was allegedly al-Qaeda's chief operative in South-East Asia and at one time the operations head for Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which organised the Bali bombing.
"We believe that Hambali and other people have prepared for other strikes in Indonesia and possibly South-East Asia in general," Mr Yudhoyono told reporters after his meetings in Washington. "So we have to anticipate and we have to prevent that kind of attack from happening.
"So our main purpose is getting information from Hambali to stop the kind of attack he might have planned in the past."
The US decision to refuse access to Hambali came as The New York Times reported that Hambali, also known as Riduan Isamuddin, had told CIA interrogators of plans to attack two US hotels and commercial airliners in Bangkok, in the lead-up to the APEC summit there next month.
Both the Prime Minister, John Howard, and US President, George Bush, are due to attend.
The security of Mr Bush's visit to Bangkok is an enormous priority for US intelligence but some ASEAN countries have expressed concerns about the unwillingness of the US to share information on Hambali.
However, Mr Yudhoyono described his talks in Washington as "productive", and told the Herald that while he and his officials would not get access to Hambali immediately, he hoped they would do so in the future.
A dinner for Mr Yudhoyono hosted by the the US-Indonesian Society and attended by high-level officials was just one example of the warm reception Mr Yudhoyono and his team received in Washington.
Mr Wolfowitz attended the dinner and offered his support for the renewal of US military supplies. The assistant Secretary of State, James Kelly, State Department officials and America's ambassador to Indonesia, Ralph Boyce, were also present.
Mr Yudhoyono revealed that Indonesia had submitted a list of questions for Hambali and he wanted the answers analysed by Indonesian intelligence.
"This time around we focused our efforts to get information from Hambali. I do realise that Hambali is needed by many countries at the same time, by the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and the United States. So we have to share a bit."
At the dinner, the Indonesian minister stressed the importance President Megawati Soekarnoputri placed on the Hambali case. "Hambali is the one man who knows more than any other on the terrorist cells through Indonesia and South-East Asia," Mr Yudhoyono said.
"Our most important priority now is making sure that we have access to whatever information that can be possibly extracted from Hambali, so that we can prevent any terrorist attacks that he was possibly planning.
"We also have a keen interest in any incriminating information from Hambali that we can use as admissible evidence in court to try suspected terrorists."
After the dinner, Mr Yudhoyono told reporters that other JI leaders and financiers were still active in the region.
"We believe they are still moving around in South-East Asia, and the only solution is to find them." he said. "We know that they have planned attacks already and are funding cells. We are still vulnerable."www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/09/21/1064082867811.htmlE-mail this article