Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali, Washington – President Donald Trump's administration will welcome Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto to the Pentagon on Friday after dropping a de facto ban on his entry into the country imposed over accusations of human rights abuses.
Prabowo, a 68-year-old former special forces commander, has long been a controversial figure in Indonesia, accused of involvement with military crimes in places like East Timor that have earned him scorn among human rights advocates.
But since being named as defense minister last year, Prabowo, who denies any wrongdoing, has also become a key figure as the Trump administration attempts to deepen defense ties with Indonesia.
Of particular concern to Washington, Indonesia's military is also being courted by Russia and China.
A senior US defense official strongly defended the decision to welcome Prabowo to the Pentagon, where he will meet Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
"Minister Prabowo is the appointed minister of defense of the now twice duly-elected president of Indonesia, which is the third-largest democracy in the world," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"He is our counterpart, of a very important partnership, and it is important that we engage with him and treat him as a partner."
Prabowo will receive official briefings elsewhere in the Washington D.C.-area on Thursday as Jakarta weighs a fighter jet purchase that has also attracted interest from Moscow.
Amnesty International and other rights advocates condemned the decision by the US State Department to grant him a visa, something it had denied in years past, including when Prabowo's son graduated from Boston University.
Prabowo told Reuters in 2012 he was refused a US visa due to allegations that he had instigated riots that killed hundreds after the overthrow of Indonesia's then-president Suharto in 1998.
"The State Department's recent decision to lift the ban on Prabowo Subianto is an abrupt, complete reversal of longstanding US foreign policy," said Amnesty International USA's National Director of Advocacy and Government Relations, Joanne Lin, calling his visit "catastrophic for human rights in Indonesia."
Senator Patrick Leahy, author of a law that prohibits US military aid to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity, condemned the Trump administration's decision and said Prabowo was "ineligible to enter this country."
"By granting a visa to Prabowo, the President and Secretary of State have shown once again that for them 'law and order' is an empty slogan that ignores the importance of justice," Leahy told Reuters.