CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Tuesday her government took "exceedingly seriously" Indonesian concerns about allegations her country tapped the phone of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other senior figures.
Indonesia recalled its ambassador from Australia on Monday and ordered a review of bilateral cooperation following reports that Australian spies attempted to listen to his cellphone in 2009.
Australian Broadcasting Corp. and The Guardian reported that they had documents from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden showing that the top-secret Australian Signals Directorate also targeted the phones of Indonesian first lady Kristiani Herawati and another eight government ministers and officials.
Bishop told reporters in India on Tuesday that she would not publicly discuss Australia's espionage activities.
"We are aware of their concerns, and we take them exceedingly seriously, but I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters," she said.
The diplomatic spat is the second in less than a month between Indonesia and Australia stemming from Snowden's revelations linking Australia with U.S. espionage.
It's an early test for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's new government, which was elected in September and is anxious to cement ties with it populous near-neighbor before the uncertainty of Indonesian presidential elections next year.
Australia wants to increase cooperation with Indonesia to solve a politically-sensitive problem of asylum seekers paying human traffickers to bring them by boat from the Indonesian archipelago to Australian shores.
Abbott on Tuesday declined to publicly comment in the diplomatic row for fear of inflaming the division in what he describes as Australia's most important bilateral relationship.
"Obviously today may not be the best day in that relationship, but nevertheless we do have a very good and strong relationship with Indonesia," Abbott told reporters.
"It's in no one's interest to do anything or to say anything that would jeopardize that relationship and certainly I'm not going to," he added.
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell, described the recall of the Indonesian ambassador as "pretty significant."
"I'm afraid you're in for a few uncomfortable months in your bilateral relationship," Campbell told ABC late Monday.
"It's going to be difficult, particularly given how much Prime Minister Abbott has made of how he wants to refashion the relationship with Indonesia," he said.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters in Jakarta on Monday the onus was now on Australia to explain what happened and to make a commitment that it would never happen again.
"In short, it has not been a good day in the Indonesia-Australia relationship," Natalegawa said.
Karmini and Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta contributed to this report