Singapore | Scott Morrison has promised Indonesia it will know by the end of the year whether Australia will relocate its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, leaving in limbo the free trade agreement between the two nations until at least then.
During a 40-minute meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Mr Morrison explained his reasons for considering the controversial move and told Jokowi a cabinet-level review the government has begun will be wound up by about Christmas. The process will also involve scrutiny by the National Security Committee of cabinet.
Negotiations on the FTA are complete and the government had been hoping to sign the deal before Christmas. But Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation with close links to Palestine, has said publicly and privately it will not sign while the embassy move remains under consideration.
Mr Morrison said the conversation with Jokowi was respectful and friendly but he acknowledged the embassy announcement had proved an irritant in the relationship.
“We have a long standing relationship with Indonesia and a comprehensive partnership that goes well into the future,” he said.
“And that means that from time to time, issues arise. You’re able to talk about them openly and honestly and in a friendly way.
“I was able to talk through the government’s process on how we’re seeking to resolve that and to come to a position. I’m intending to do that over the next little while and I was able to take and step them through some of the key principles which have always been important to us in addressing this issue.
“The first of those is that Australia and I and my government is motivated by wanting to see progress towards a two-state solution.”
He indicated he would have a similar discussion with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed whom he is scheduled to meet Thursday.
Back home, conservative Senator Eric Abetz, who backs the embassy relocation, said Australia should consider pulling the $360 million a year it gives a year in aid to Indonesia if Indonesia wanted to dictate foreign policy.
Mr Morrison dismissed this. If the government agrees to move the embassy, the FTA may never be signed.
Indonesia’s Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi are most outspoken against the embassy idea and both attend the talks on Wednesday.
The government argues that even if the FTA was signed before Christmas, it would still take several months for both governments to ratify.
In Australia, there is a committee scrutiny process which must last a minimum five sitting weeks of Parliament, meaning Australia would be unlikely to ratify it until after the federal election, due by mid-May.
Indonesia has eight other FTAs its Parliament has yet to ratify and it has an election in April.
Mr Morrison was accompanied by Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, his foreign affairs a1dviser Michelle Chan and Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia Gary Quinlan.
Mr Morrison also has meetings scheduled today with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.