Indonesian president urges Biden to help end Gaza 'atrocities'

US President Joe Biden meets with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in the Oval Office of the White House (SAUL LOEB)
US President Joe Biden meets with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in the Oval Office of the White House (SAUL LOEB)

Indonesian President Joko Widodo pressed US President Joe Biden during a visit to the White House on Monday to do more to end "atrocities" in Gaza and help bring about a ceasefire.

The Israel-Hamas war overshadowed the talks, which had been meant to showcase an upgrade in ties between Indonesia and the United States ahead of Biden's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.

"Indonesia appeals to the US to do more to stop the atrocities in Gaza," Widodo, the leader of the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, said as the two presidents met in front of a roaring fire.

"Ceasefire is a must for the sake of humanity."

The Indonesian president had said Sunday he would bring Biden a "very strong message" from a joint summit of Arab and Muslim leaders in Riyadh at the weekend which condemned Israel and called for a ceasefire.

Widodo had also said he would "deliver a specific message from President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine, who asked me to convey it to President Biden," regarding the war.

But Biden stayed focused on plans to upgrade cooperation with Indonesia to the highest level, a so-called comprehensive strategic partnership.

Washington has been trying to build alliances in the Asia-Pacific region as China becomes an increasingly assertive presence.

"This will mark a new era of relations between the United States and Indonesia across the board, affecting everything," Biden said, reading from a card.

The leaders would also discuss cooperation on critical minerals for electric vehicle batteries and other clean energy technologies, of which Indonesia has large reserves, Biden said.

After talks in the Oval Office, the two leaders were due to have tea in the White House Cabinet Room accompanied by their aides.

- 'Critical' -

The meeting comes two days before Biden is due to meet Xi on the sidelines of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco.

Washington and Beijing are hoping to stabilize ties amid increasingly tense competition for alliances with nations like Indonesia.

Indonesia and other countries will be watching the talks between the superpower rivals because "they want a situation that is not risking global conflict," a US official said on Sunday.

Biden unveiled a similar upgrade to ties with Vietnam on a visit to Hanoi in September.

Indonesia, like many emerging and developing countries, has received massive Chinese investment and loans, particularly for infrastructure projects.

But global concerns about the Israel-Hamas conflict were on the agenda in Washington, as they will be in San Francisco later this week.

US officials had said that Biden would in turn urge his Indonesian counterpart to take a "larger role" in resolving the Middle East situation.

"I think it will be critical to hear the perspectives from Indonesia about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East," a senior US administration official said Sunday in a call with reporters.

This would include the "ceasefire issue" but also long-term goals such as a two-state solution after the war and rebuilding the shattered Gaza Strip, the US official said.

Indonesia last week denied an allegation by Israel that a hospital built in Gaza using Indonesian charity funding sits atop a network of Hamas tunnels.