SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott struck a conciliatory tone on Thursday after speaking with Indonesian President Joko Widodo about the looming execution of two convicted Australian drug traffickers.
Abbott said he spoke with his “friend” Widodo on Wednesday evening, adding that the Indonesian leader “absolutely understands our position ... and I think he is carefully considering Indonesia’s position”.
Widodo has denied clemency to 11 convicts on death row, including the Australian nationals, ratcheting up diplomatic tensions amid repeated pleas for mercy.
Abbott had previously angered Jakarta by linking his pleas for clemency for the pair to Australia’s aid to Indonesia after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Jakarta responded by warning that threats were not part of diplomatic language.
“It was a positive sign that the conversation took place,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra. “It’s a sign of the depth of the friendship between Australia and Indonesia.”
Abbott declined to comment on the conversation in detail.
“I don’t want to raise hope that might turn out to be dashed,” he said. “I want to ensure that as far as is humanly possible, I am speaking out for Australians and for Australian values, but I also have to respect and defend Australia’s friendships.”
Indonesia’s Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo said on Wednesday the planned executions, to be carried out by firing squads, would not be delayed or canceled in the face of diplomatic pressure. He declined to specify a date.
Widodo, who took calls from Brazil, France, and the Netherlands this week - who have nationals on death row in Indonesia - has warned these nations against interfering in Indonesia’s sovereign affairs.
Indonesia has harsh penalties for drug trafficking and resumed executions in 2013 after a five-year gap.
On Tuesday, a court in Jakarta threw out an appeal by the two Australians, Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31, against Widodo’s rejection of their request for presidential clemency.
Lawyers for the members of the so-called Bali Nine group of Australians, convicted in 2005 as the ringleaders of a plot to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia, have said they plan to appeal that decision.
The Australian government has stressed that Sukumaran and Chan have been rehabilitated in prison, where they mentor younger inmates.
Editing by Andrew Roche