The United States is refusing to divulge why it denied Indonesian military chief Gatot Nurmantyo entry to the US as its own embassy in Jakarta scrambles to get to the bottom of the diplomatically embarrassing affair.
The baffling incident threatens to cause ructions in the relationship between the two countries with a banner calling for the expulsion of the US Ambassador erected over a major thoroughfare in Jakarta on Monday morning.
Indonesian Armed Forces Chief General Gatot Nurmantyo had been invited to a countering violent extremism conference in Washington. Photo: AP
It could also play out domestically in favour of the nationalist General Gatot, who is widely believed to have political aspirations at the highest level and has long believed foreigners are engaged in a proxy war to undermine Indonesia.
Earlier this year General Gatot temporarily suspended military ties with Australia over teaching materials perceived as derogatory at a Perth Army base.
He has previously raised concerns about the US Marines that rotate through Darwin, implying they are there for the eventual takeover of Papua, and spoke of putting a stop to Australia trying to recruit Indonesian officers as spies or agents of influence.
Acting Deputy Ambassador Erin McKee reiterated the Embassy's apology after being summoned to meet Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Monday morning and said there was "absolutely no issues" with General Gatot Nurmantyo's ability to travel to the US.
"The Embassy is working very hard to understand what transpired around this incident and we hope that it will not happen again," Ms McKee said. "We deeply regret the inconvenience this incident caused."
Ms McKee said General Gatot was invited to a countering violent extremism conference in Washington by General Joseph Dunford, the US's highest ranking military official. The US "welcomes his participation".
"We have resolved the matter," she said.
But Ms Retno said Indonesia continued to demand an explanation for what happened.
"I received information that the situation has been resolved but I told them it was not enough," she said.
"For us this is an important issue. We are not only working from Jakarta with their embassy here. Yesterday I lost count of how many times I spoke with the Indonesian Ambassador in Washington to - once again - seek clarification over what happened."
Moments before his plane was due to depart from Jakarta on Saturday, General Gatot was informed by Emirates he had been denied entry to the United States by US Customs and Border Protection despite having a visa.
Indonesian National Armed Forces spokesman Major General Wuryanto said General Gatot would not attend the conference despite the US's subsequent assurances he was welcome.
The Indonesian Foreign Ministry was told the initial rejection was due to "an internal matter within the US government", according to Hikmahanto Juwana, a professor of International Relations at the University of Indonesia.
He told Fairfax Media no further information was provided.
"If the issue is not appropriately responded to by the US government it will affect the Indonesia-US relations," Professor Hikmahanto said.
"The Indonesian Government (must) strongly protest if no clarification is provided or if the clarification given is not appropriate. If needed, summon the Indonesian Ambassador to go home for consultation.
"If still unheeded, it is just possible that the Government may expel the US Ambassador to Indonesia or (declare him) persona non grata.
"The public should exercise patience and ... give opportunity for the government to take steps to maintain the state's dignity."
The US has a history of denying former Indonesian generals entry to the US.
Putative 2019 president candidate Prabowo Subianto told Reuters in 2012 he was still refused a US visa over allegations, which he denies, that he instigated riots that killed hundreds after Suharto's overthrow.
However what makes this latest incident so bizarre is that General Gatot was declared to have a clear human rights record by the Commission of Missing Persons and Victims of Violence in 2015.
One analyst said the US never provided clarity on its reasons for denying entry: "The Embassy will surely never tell us".
He also suggested a reason the US Embassy in Jakarta looked so inept was because there was no guidance from Washington.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald