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In Indonesia, Obama Knocks Israel Settlements

In Indonesia, Obama Knocks Israel Settlements

By Scott Conroy - November 9, 2010

President Obama arrived in Indonesia on Tuesday and introduced First Lady Michelle Obama to the country where he lived from the ages of six to 10. He also reflected on the memory of his mother who raised him there.

Speaking at a press conference in Jakarta alongside Indonesian President Suslilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Obama said that he "barely recognized" the country's capital city.

After soaking in the poignant return to his old home, Obama weighed in on two international flash points thousands of miles away: the Middle East and China.

Asked whether the planned construction of new Israeli housing settlements in East Jerusalem might undermine his administration's Middle East peace efforts, Obama said that he had not been fully briefed on the latest developments on Israeli settlements but added a strong note of caution.

"This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations," Obama said. "And I'm concerned that we're not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough that could finally create a framework for a secure Israel living side and side -- side by side -- in peace with a sovereign Palestine."

Obama added that his administration would "keep working on it," since it was in the interest of Israelis, Palestinians and the rest of the word to achieve an agreement.

"But each of these incremental steps can end up breaking down trust between the parties," Obama added.

Obama also spoke about China in advance of his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday at the G-20 economic summit in South Korea, as the controversy over accusations of Chinese currency manipulation continued to simmer.

"What we agreed to in previous meetings of the G-20 is that we need to establish a framework for more balanced growth; we have not yet achieved that balanced growth," Obama said without singling out China in particular. "You're seeing some countries run up very big surpluses and intervening significantly in the currency markets to maintain their advantage when it comes to their currency."

Obama added that it was "good for the United States" for China to continue to pursue its path of economic development, which has expanded the global market and lifted millions out of poverty. The president then added a caveat.

"We do want to make sure that everybody is operating within an international framework and sets of rules in which countries recognize their responsibilities to each other," Obama added. "That's true for the United States, that's true for China, that's true for Indonesia."

After the joint press conference, Obama was regaled at a state dinner, in which he commended Indonesia's president for honoring the memory of his mother and the anthropological research she conducted during her time living in the country.

"She believed that we all share common aspirations -- to live in dignity and security, to get an education, to provide for our families, to give our children a better future, to leave the world better than we found it," Obama said. "She also believed, by the way, in the importance of educating girls and empowering women, because she understood that when we provide education to young women, when we honor and respect women, that we are in fact developing the entire country."

On Wednesday morning, Obama will deliver a speech at the University of Indonesia in front of an expected crowd of thousands before taking off for South Korea.

In his speech, Obama will talk more extensively about his childhood memories of Indonesia and will expound upon his view of America's relationship with the Muslim world, building on many of the themes that he first spoke about in his June 2009 address at Cairo University in Egypt.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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