Indonesia admitted yesterday that reporters had been allowed to listen in on a conversation between its president and Australia's prime minister that was aimed at improving relations, but insisted it was a mistake.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Indonesia's Batam island today as he tries to restore ties that have been hurt by spying allegations and the turning back of boatpeople headed for Australia.
But it has emerged that Jakarta allowed Indonesian journalists to listen in on the call Abbott made to Yudhoyono last month to arrange the talks.
Abbott yesterday 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 said, adding it had "already been more than a month" since the conversation.
He said presidential palace reporters were 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 after the call.
Abbott was reluctant to criticise Jakarta yesterday, dodging questions about the incident when pressed. He assured Indonesia he would always treat it with respect.
"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.
The meeting between the leaders today follows Abbott's abrupt cancellation of a trip to Indonesia last month, reportedly over fears an asylum boat turnback could inflame tensions.