JAKARTA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Asia-Pacific leaders on Monday to do more to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Islamic State in the Middle East and choke off finance to the militants.
In Jakarta for the inauguration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Kerry also met the prime ministers of Malaysia and Singapore, the Sultan of Brunei, Australia’s prime minister and the foreign minister of the Philippines.
Meeting Malaysian leader Najib Razak, Kerry praised his largely Muslim state’s strong condemnation of Islamic State, but also said the international community should do more to crack down on foreign fighters, a U.S. State Department official said.
With his counterpart from the Philippines, Albert del Rosario, Kerry discussed such efforts under way there.
The Islamic State issue was not raised with Widodo on his inauguration day as leader of the world’s most populous Muslim state, the new president told reporters - in spite of U.S. concerns about flows of militants from Indonesia.
En route to Jakarta, senior U.S. officials said Kerry’s discussions would cover ways to stop Islamic State’s recruitment, prevent the return of hardened fighters to the region, and block militant financing.
One senior U.S. official said the United States would like to see Indonesia do more to freeze militants’ assets in line with U.N. Financial Action Task Force requirements.
In his meeting with Australia’s Tony Abbott, Kerry hailed Australia’s active support for the campaign against Islamic State, which has included air strikes.
“We couldn’t have a stronger partner and we are very, very grateful for Australia’s consistent willingness to step up and stand for values, as well as interests, that are important to us,” Kerry said.
Australia’s experience with domestic militants joining Islamic State “brings home to everybody how important it is to be a global coalition and for all of us to understand the stakes,” he said.
U.S. officials said Kerry’s Jakarta talks would also touch on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where China’s increasing assertiveness is a worry to Washington and its Asian allies, the fight against Ebola, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact under negotiation.
A senior U.S. official said Kerry congratulated Widodo on his inauguration and emphasized Indonesia’s important role in the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Washington is keen for Jakarta to play an influential role in ASEAN, which Washington sees as an important ally in maintaining U.S. influence in the region as China’s grows.
Kerry’s visit came ahead of an East Asia Summit in Myanmar next month and of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Beijing.
Before heading to Indonesia, Kerry hosted two days of talks in his native Boston with China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, to warm the mood for a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama after APEC.
Both sides stressed the need to manage differences and co-operate against global threats including Islamic State.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom; additional reporting by Fransiska Nangoy; editing by Andrew Roche