Indonesia admitted on Tuesday that reporters had been allowed to listen in on a conversation between its president and Australia's prime minister aimed at improving relations, but insisted it had been a mistake.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Indonesia's Batam island on Wednesday as he tries to restore ties that have been hurt by spying allegations and turnbacks of boatpeople headed for Australia.
But it has now emerged that Jakarta allowed Indonesian journalists to listen in on the call Abbott made to Yudhoyono last month to arrange this week's talks.
Abbott on Tuesday brushed off the apparent breach of protocol and an Indonesian presidential spokesman played down the incident, which he said was due to a misunderstanding.
“We don't see this as a big incident. There was nothing substantive in the conversation to make a big issue out of,” spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told AFP, adding it had been a month since the conversation.
He said presidential palace reporters are usually “given a glimpse” of conversations between the president and other leaders but it was “a mistake” to allow them to hear everything.
“There was a misunderstanding where some of the media stayed in the room. The room was full of ministers and officials, so it was difficult for staff to tell who was supposed to be there,” Faizasyah said.
The presidential palace released excerpts of the conversation to journalists following the call.
Abbott was reluctant to criticise Jakarta on Tuesday, dodging questions about the incident when pressed by the ABC - which first reported it. He assured Indonesia he would always treat it with respect.
“Look, I was having a very genial conversation with the president, and I could tell that the president was very keen to have a warm conversation with me,” he said.
“And the important thing is the quality of the conversation; that's the important thing.
“And I've always emerged from my discussions with President Yudhoyono feeling uplifted and encouraged and that's a very good thing.”
He said he was expecting “a good meeting, a warm meeting”.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa also said people should focus on the content of the call, adding that it reflected a “commitment of the two leaders to move forward”.
Relations soured last year as allegations emerged that Canberra had spied on Yudhoyono, his wife and his inner circle of officials.
Jakarta has drawn up a six-point code of conduct to govern behaviour in the wake of the spying row and handed it to Canberra.
“We are waiting for the Australian side, for their response. Hopefully tomorrow we can get some kind of indication,” Natalegawa said.
“It's very simple, in a way a no-brainer. It essentially says the two countries commit to not undertake irregular surveillance activities.”
Jakarta has also expressed frustration with Canberra's tough immigration policy, which has seen the Australian navy turn back boats carrying asylum-seekers from its waters to Indonesia's.
The Indonesian ambassador to Australia was recalled to Jakarta in November at the height of the tensions, and only returned last month. - Sapa-AFP