205 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 1 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

The Acting Minister and the Minister for Defence saw Santos and accompanying Portuguese officials for 1° hours this morning, Monday 1 September. Discussions were continued between Portuguese and Australian officials over lunch and the Acting Minister and the Minister for Defence saw Santos again for 1° hours in the afternoon. Our immediately following telegram contains the text of a statement about the outcome of the discussions which was agreed between Santos and Australian Ministers and released to the news media by a spokesman for the Government this evening. The Portuguese undertook that they would not go beyond the agreed statement in dealings with the news media.

  1. The discussions with the Portuguese were, in short, fruitless. We shall be sending any additional information that seems desirable after we have examined the records of discussion. The main point which it is important for you to know now is that in the discussions it rapidly emerged that the differences between Indonesia and Portugal were much wider than the Portuguese reservations (your O.JA15411 ) suggest. To judge from Santos's statements to Australian Ministers, there does not seem to be agreement between Indonesia and Portugal on any of the points covered in the memorandum of understanding. In particular, Santos repeatedly stressed that in no circumstances would Portugal alone invite Indonesian intervention in Portuguese Timor. He indicated that the joint authority envisaged in the memorandum of understanding (which, it is perhaps significant, he sometimes referred to as the joint command) would be the body which would invite Indonesian intervention. In other comments, Santos indicated that he envisaged the joint authority as assuming Portugal's colonial responsibilities in Timor. The Acting Minister made it clear that it would not be possible for Australia to participate in a joint authority which would invite Indonesian participation in Portuguese Timor, or assume Portugal's colonial responsibilities there. In other comments to Santos, the Acting Minister and the Minister for Defence followed the line of the Acting Minister's public statements on Portuguese Timor.
  2. Santos also made it clear that he would prefer to see Indonesian intervention take place without a Portuguese invitation than with one. He suggested the international reaction to an uninvited Indonesian intervention would be much worse than we had tended to expect. To judge from his remarks, if no agreement can be reached with the Indonesians or with the contending parties in Portuguese Timor, the Portuguese will simply refer the problem to the United Nations-Santos at one point mentioned the Security Council-in the full knowledge that this action may provoke Indonesian intervention in Portuguese Timor.
  3. There was frank discussion about the mistrust which exists between the Portuguese and the Indonesians. The Acting Minister tried unsuccessfully to get Santos to agree that if Australia provided humanitarian assistance to Portuguese Timor, as she was already doing, then the Portuguese should also allow similar assistance from Indonesia.
  4. The Minister for Defence is placing a VIP aircraft to fly Santos and accompanying Portuguese officials to Darwin on Tuesday, 2 September from Sydney. The two Ministers stressed to Santos that he should travel immediately from Darwin to Atauro on Tuesday in order to ascertain whether discussions with the Timorese parties could be got going. Santos seemed reluctant to go without delay to Atauro or to stay for any time on the island. He appeared to prefer to make Darwin his base for contacts with the Timorese parties. The Ministers expressed their opposition to this latter idea but undertook to transport Santos back to Darwin from time to time as it became necessary, for example, for him to communicate with his Government. Despite Santos's tendency to drag his feet over getting the negotiations with the Timorese parties going, he seemed to attach importance to them and he left the impression, perhaps deliberately, that there was some prospect of agreement, because FRETILIN would see agreement as a means of avoiding Indonesian intervention and UDT would see agreement as a means of avoiding defeat at FRETILIN's hands. We wonder whether Santos's relative hopefulness about the negotiations was not designed in some way to bring pressure on Indonesia and for that matter Australia to reach agreement with Portugal on the questions covered in the memorandum of understanding.2

[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/11/1, xiii]