173 Note from Willesee to Whitlam

Canberra, 20 August 1975

Joint Statement

I note that Woolcott has reported that President Suharto has decided Indonesia should not intervene militarily in Portuguese Timor. Woolcott stated that one of the reasons Suharto has made this decision is concern about Australia's reaction to such a move (I attach the telegram concerned1 in case you have not seen it).

  1. I am still concerned that we should respond to what I read to be General Sugama's request for the Australian Government's views about Indonesia's thinking on the situation in Portuguese Timor. As I have argued to you I am concerned that the Government would find itself in an embarrassing and politically indefensible position if Indonesia takes military action and it becomes known that we were forewarned of this possibility by a senior Indonesian official and did not respond to the invitation to state our views. I am also concerned that a failure to provide our views at this juncture may limit the range of reactions to any Indonesian military action available to us since the Indonesians would be able to argue to us that we were forewarned of their thinking and did not demur.
  2. If, as Woolcott suggests, we do have some influence on President Suharto's thinking, I believe we should attempt to trade on that influence and dissuade the Indonesians further from trying to integrate Portuguese Timor forcefully.
  3. I appreciate we have asked Woolcott for his opinion on the need to reply to General Sugama but I do not expect to hear from Woolcott before the weekend since he is on tour in Sumatra.2
  4. Unconfirmed reports I have received this evening highlight the prospect of disorder in the colony and in my opinion add a dimension of urgency to the need for urging restraint on the Indonesians. The Governor of Portuguese Timor has adviseq the Portuguese Ambassador that two Timorese Army units in Dili have mutinied and the airport control tower in Dili has reported to the Darwin airport control that Fretilin have launched armed attacks on Dili.
  5. I strongly recommend therefore that we should send instructions to the Embassy in Jakarta that the points proposed in the note we discussed last Monday evening be conveyed to senior Indonesian officials as the considered reaction of the Australian Government to General Sugama's comments to Woolcott.3

[NAA: A1838, 3038110/112, iii]