Indonesian battle over Freeport threatens to mar leader’s U.S. trip – by Randy Fabi and Wilda Asmarini (Reuters U.S. – October 16, 2015)

Jakarta – Indonesian ministers are battling over control of U.S. mining giant Freeport-McMoRan’s future in the country, threatening to mar the president’s first trip to the United States later this month.

President Joko Widodo starts a five-day trip to Washington and San Francisco on Oct. 25, as investor sentiment in Southeast Asia’s largest economy brightens following a cabinet reshuffle and a series of new stimulus measures.

One of Widodo’s first stops will be with Freeport executives at a breakfast ahead of his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, according to a tentative schedule obtained by Reuters.

At the heart of talks will likely be Freeport’s years-long bid to renew its contract, allowing the firm to continue operating beyond 2021 at the lucrative Grasberg mine in Papua, one of the world’s biggest deposits of gold and copper.

Freeport wants certainty to spend $18 billion to build what would be the world’s biggest underground mine. But under law the government cannot begin to renegotiate until 2019, two years before the contract expires.

A mines ministry official said this month the rules were being revised, possibly allowing companies to propose an extension earlier.

Mines minister Sudirman Said assured Freeport in a letter last week that the government would “promptly” approve a contract extension once it completes the process later this year.

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