TIME TO GO?
May 20, 1998
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript
Secretary of State Albright called on Indonesian President Suharto to "preserve his legacy" by permitting a transition to democracy. More than 500 people died in violent riots last week and there were more protests. Margaret Warner discusses the latest developments with the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Stanley Roth. [Editor's Note: The interview with Sec. Roth took place prior to President Suharto's resignation.]
JIM LEHRER: We begin with an update from there by Ian Williams of Independent Television News.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 19, 1998:
An ITN report on the political crisis in Indonesia.
May 14, 1998:
Student demonstrators take to the streets in Indonesia.
May 4, 1998:
The IMF continues its $43 billion bailout of Indonesia.
March 13, 1998:
Read a recent Online Forum on the future of Indonesia.
March 10, 1998:
Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin discusses U.S. efforts to assist Indonesia.
February 27, 1998:
The reasons behind Indonesia's falling rupiah.
January 19, 1998:
An examination of the International Monetary Fund's bailout of the Asian economies.
January 9, 1998:
Indonesia's reluctance to follow the IMF plan sends markets tumbling.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Asia.
The Indonesian Foreign Affairs department
The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta
International Monetary Fund
Protestors demand Suharto's exit.
IAN WILLIAMS, ITN: By first light the armed forces had shut down Jakarta. Tens of thousands of soldiers threw a ring of steel around the center of the capital. In the face of such overwhelming odds, the opposition retreated, calling on protesters to stay away. Beyond the armor, the National Monument and the vast emptiness of a main square, which the opposition had vowed to fill with hundreds of thousands of protestors. Instead, the country's most prominent opposition leader joined the students occupying parliament. He claimed a general had told him the army didn't care if Indonesia suffered a massacre like that in Tiananmen Square in China. And he wasn't prepared to take that risk.
AMIEN RAIS, opposition leader: -he's one to sacrifice innocent people-Suharto-
IAN WILLIAMS: He called on the army to make a clear choice, either continue to protect one man whose family has plundered the nation or protect the interests of the Indonesian people. And where they were free to do so, the people made their feelings know across the country today. An estimated quarter of a million took to the streets of Jakarta, denouncing President Suharto, a message repeated in several major cities. The only protests allowed in the capital were to parliament, the authorities intent on trying to contain the demonstrations. And among those who marched arm in arm with the students were professionals. There were lawyers who say Suharto will manipulate a planned committee on reform, the membership of which will be announced tomorrow.
PROTESTOR: And we do not agree also to the appointing of the committee of reformation by him. We are afraid of any engineering.
IAN WILLIAMS: Again, the ambiguous attitude of some soldiers was clearly on display, though not among those, many of them special forces who'd sealed off the center of the capital, blocking people's power from entering the heart of Jakarta. So the army has thwarted today's people's protests by shutting the
people out of the city. It's been a massive, if rather crude, show of force, but an effective one, at least for the moment.
Students burn Indonesian President Suharto in effegy.
The crisis from the U.S. State Department's point of view.
JIM LEHRER: To the American response and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: As we just reported, Secretary of State Albright today urged President Suharto to seize what she called the opportunity for an historic act of statesmanship. For more on the U.S. view we turn now to the State Department's point man on Indonesia, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Stanley Roth.Welcome, Mr. Secretary. What did the Secretary of State mean by what she said today?
STANLEY ROTH, Assistant Secretary of State: I think when she called for historic act of statesmanship, she was referring to the opportunity that President Suharto has to move in a timely and credible fashion to implement the transition process that he announced yesterday. As you know, he called for a process for elections in which he would not compete, therefore, if one has free and fair elections, one is, by definition, having a democratic process and, of course, if he's not running, it means that it will certainly be a transition. She was trying to state that this should take place as soon as possible for the good of the Indonesian people.
MARGARET WARNER: So when reports today characterized it, essentially she was urging him to step down, is that correct?
"This should not be misunderstood as a call for an immediate step down."
STANLEY ROTH: This should not be misunderstood as a call for an immediate step down today. We have studiously avoided deciding how political reform in Indonesia should take place. We don't believe it should be an American plan. It should be an Indonesian plan. But what we do believe is that there has to be a process of political reform. It has to be credible. It has to result in a democratic transition. And we think the sooner it takes place, the better for the good of the Indonesian people.
MARGARET WARNER: Now a newspaper in Indonesia called Kompas is reporting and the American wires picked up that Suharto, they're saying, is going to-after he names this reform council tomorrow-turn over power to his vice president, Mr. Habibie. What do you know about that?
STANLEY ROTH: Jakarta is awash in rumors at the moment. I cannot confirm that. We'll just have to wait and see, but for now we do not know that to be a fact.
MARGARET WARNER: Did President Suharto know what the Secretary of State was going to say before she said it today?
Change should come from within Indonesia.
STANLEY ROTH: In the immediate sense, of course not. This was not something that we had previewed for them. But in the larger picture the United States' message has been very consistent and very public. Secretary Albright made a public statement last week, as did President Clinton, as did the G-8 leaders in Birmingham, and all of those focused on three points. First, there has to be political reform. Otherwise, Indonesia is not going to break out of this cycle of violence. Second, this reform should occur through a process of dialogue between the Indonesian government and its citizens, and, third, while this process is taking place, there has to be restraint by all parties, and certainly that means the security forces has peaceful demonstrations take place.
An Indonesian Army solider guards the National Monument in Jakarta.
MARGARET WARNER: But the idea that you just reiterated today that this should also happen as quickly as possible. I mean, has the U.S. government been in private contact? Are we in private, direct contact with President Suharto now, and are we telling him that privately?
STANLEY ROTH: Again, we are not trying to micro-manage the political process in Indonesia. We are allowing them to do-come up with an Indonesian solution to an Indonesian political crisis. And we have studiously avoided taking a position on whether it should be days, weeks, or how they do it. We tried to outline the broad principles under which political reform should take place.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, what I'm driving at is: Are we in direct contact with him? Are U.S. officials seeing him at all?
STANLEY ROTH: We have not had any direct face to face contact that I'm aware of in the past few days with President Suharto. And we are not negotiating the terms of a political deal with him. This is an Indonesian affair.
Trying to figure out a reasonable timetable for reform.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, you talked about timely and as soon as possible. Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary, today said swiftly. What are we talking about? I know you're not trying to micro-manage or dictate a timetable, but let me ask it another way. President Suharto Tuesday was talking about what sounded like a fairly lengthy process of reform, several months. Some observers said it would take into next year. Do you think that is feasible?
STANLEY ROTH: Let me say first that there are many different ways in which a transition to democratic government could take place in Indonesia, and these different scenarios would have different time frames. What we are interested in and the reason we have said we would like to see it happen as soon as possible is because obviously Indonesia is paying a terrible price and particularly the poorest people, more than a hundred million people in Indonesia, themselves, who are suffering now as a result of the political chaos, the near shutdown of the economy, and, of course, the tragic violence that took place last week, by some estimates 500 people, and the possibility that more could occur if the cycle of violence is not broken. Therefore, we believe it's not only in the interest of the outside world and of the region for reform to occur as soon as possible but the Indonesian people, themselves.
Can Suharto be taken at his word?
MARGARET WARNER: Now-maybe if you put on your analyst's hat a little bit, your reading of the intentions of the opposition say and the students-do you think the situation is such that they would be willing to accept some sort of a process that would take months and months and in which President Suharto, himself, would preside over the transition, or do you think what we're probably looking at is that-as they are saying publicly now, they want him to step aside while whatever transition takes place takes place?
STANLEY ROTH: Again, I'm not going to be able to go much further than I've already gone. There are many different ways of achieving the same objective, and the Indonesians have to decide it. And one can see the timetable taking place over a period, you know, different periods of time, depending on the path they choose. All we feel appropriate for the United States is that we need to break out of this cycle, they need to have political reform, and they need to do it peacefully.
MARGARET WARNER: What is your reading based on American contacts with President Suharto and his government of he, himself? For instance, when he made this announcement Tuesday that he was ready to step aside, you heard right in our tape piece a lot of skepticism from people over there that he really meant what he said. Do you think he means what he says?
STANLEY ROTH: It's always difficult to step into the head of a leader of another country. Let me simply say that this was obviously a major change for Suharto, himself. Only a few weeks ago, before he left for Africa for a non-ally movement meeting, he had made clear that political reform will have to take place after the year 2003, which is when his current term expires. Obviously, he, himself, has been enormously influenced by the developments that have occurred, by the demonstrations, I assume by the fatalities last week, and the economic implications of this for the Indonesian people. So I assume that he has made a decision that he will step aside. This was a huge announcement yesterday that he would call for earlier elections and that he would not run.
The price of stepping aside.
MARGARET WARNER: Does the U.S. know what he wants to step aside sooner rather than later, what he personally is concerned about, cares about, the price, if you would, for stepping aside?
STANLEY ROTH: He has not defined this not only for us but as far as we know for the Indonesian people, themselves, and this is one of the remaining steps that needs to be done, is to put the how into the general statement that there's going to be a democratic transition.
MARGARET WARNER: From what you're saying, I'm surmising-but tell me if this is true-that the U.S. is not playing a role, for instance, as a broker or carrying messages back and forth between the opposition and the Suharto government or President Suharto, that we're not in there mediating or brokering. Are we, or aren't we?
STANLEY ROTH: That's correct. We're not playing a mediating role. We have stated the broad principles, the direction in which we think things should go. We have coordinated with other countries, most notably the G-8 at Birmingham, and so that there be a firm international message of the need for political reform, as well as restraint in terms of dealing with demonstrators. But we have not tried to serve as a broker in this process.
Will there be more violence?
MARGARET WARNER: How powerless do you think the situation we just saw-how powerless do you think it is in terms of the possibility of it spinning out of control?
STANLEY ROTH: Having witnessed the events of last week in which we saw a week that began with Jakarta completely peaceful, then the tragic shooting of at least six students by security forces, and then the eruption of violence across Jakarta and some other locations in Indonesia all indicate that the possibility for violence can escalate very quickly, and almost from a complete stop. So that we are very worried that the situation could spin out of control. We're seeing very large demonstrations, 10,000 students or so on the grounds of parliament, 1/4 million people demonstrating in Jakarta, in Eastern Java is extraordinary. There are 50,000 students in another city. All of this has enormous potential if there is not restraint in dealing with the demonstrators, and that's why we continue to emphasize the importance of that point, even as the Indonesians continue to work on the political resolution.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, you're, of course, talking about restraint on the part of the military. First of all, do you think President Suharto has control of that?
STANLEY ROTH: There is no reason at this point to think that President Suharto is not in control of the military.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. And what is your reading of the military's intentions here and their aims?
"The military is in a difficult position."
STANLEY ROTH: The military is obviously in a difficult position. And I think you can tell this from the words of General Wiranto, the chief of staff, last week. On the one hand, he feels responsibility to maintain order that cannot, you know, condone the rioting and looting, which led to the tragic deaths of hundreds of people in the burning of the shopping malls. At the same time these made it very clear that the Indonesian armed forces, do not want to be shooting their own citizens, the students, that he has called for an investigation into this murder of the six students that I mentioned previously, so they are trying to play a role as one of the key institutions in Indonesia, even in the constitution, the Indonesian military has a special role, and also the defenders of law and order, that's a tough line.
MARGARET WARNER: So when Amien Rais, one of the opposition leaders, says, as he did today, that he's been told the military doesn't care if the Tiananmen-style massacre takes place. Do you think-do you share that concern at all?
STANLEY ROTH: Well, certainly, that is not what the chief of staff, Gen. Wiranto, has said both publicly and privately, and I can assure you we've had numerous communications with him, both at the civilian side and the military side, to emphasize the importance of restraint. And he has many times reiterated his own commitment to that.
MARGARET WARNER: So how long do you think the military will, for instance, let all these tens of thousands of students occupy the parliament building and compound?
STANLEY ROTH: Hopefully until there is a political resolution and they're willing to leave peacefully.
MARGARET WARNER: You say we're in great contact. The U.S. government is with the Indonesian military. How much leverage do you think the U.S. has either with the Indonesian military and with President Suharto?
STANLEY ROTH: I believe that Indonesians are very cognizant of the depths of the economic difficulties that they currently face and the fact that they need international help, including American help to get out of it, and that consequently that if there is a violent resolution of the crisis, that this will have serious consequences for that. So I think there is inherently leverage, but they're also being driven by the domestic considerations, not the least of which is their perceived need for law and order, and so they're split.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
STANLEY ROTH: Thank you.