Indonesia has set a relaxed tone for the first meeting of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Tony Abbott since a diplomatic rift.
The leaders of Australia and Indonesia have expressed their strong wishes to reconnect on the eve of a reunion meeting that could be sealed with a code of conduct within weeks.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will meet in Batam, Indonesia, on Wednesday, for their first face-to-face exchange since November’s revelations Australia had eavesdropped on the phone calls of the president’s wife and others.
A meeting scheduled for last month fell through at the last minute when it was widely understood Mr Abbott cancelled as Australia was engaged in the diplomatically sensitive task of turning back an asylum-seeker boat.
But President Yudhoyono’s desire to overcome both these issues are made pressing by the fact he leaves office in October.
His office says a code of conduct, a document on which Indonesia has insisted to guide the future relationship, is a high priority.
But whether the leaders discuss this on Wednesday is unclear, as Indonesia is setting a relaxed tone for the discussion and dinner.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa says the code is a one-page document with a basic commitment not to spy on Indonesia.
However, he says, the leaders will discuss whatever issues they feel most important.
“This is an informal meeting in nature and will certainly be about what both heads of state desire,” he told reporters in Jakarta.
But Indonesia’s ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, acknowledged the gravity of the meeting.
Given his return just last week to his Canberra post as part of the reconciliation process, he told Indonesia’s Kompas newspaper: “The Indonesia-Australia relationship is at a turning point”.
Meanwhile, Mr Abbott told parliament the relationship with Indonesia was in some respects Australia’s most important.
He said the code of conduct had taken some time to draft, but should be ready to finalise when the foreign ministers and defence ministers meet for “2+2″ talks, within weeks.
“I am determined to do everything I can to improve the relationship,” Mr Abbott said.
“I am particularly keen to ensure that the relationship improves while President Yudhoyono is in office because not only has he been a great president of his country, he has also been a very good friend to Australia.”
Mr Abbott shrugged off reports an Indonesian reporter was present when he called Dr Yudhoyono last month to apologise for not going to Bali.
The reporter published parts of their conversation.
The president’s office has called it a “mistake” that occurred when staff overlooked the reporter in a crowded room.
Mr Abbott was keen to downplay the matter, saying what mattered most was the content of the call.
After the visit Mr Abbott will join other world leaders for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France before heading to Canada and the United States on a trade and investment tour.