216 Cablegram to Canberra

New York, 5 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

For Renouf; Jakarta for Woolcott; Lisbon for Cooper; Kuala Lumpur for Parsons

Ref O.CH263759 1

As a basis for contingency planning we have examined the various possible courses which reference of the Portuguese Timor question to the United Nations could take suggested in your reference telegram, taking into account O.JA16632 which indicates that Indonesia could possibly, if reluctantly, accept a Committee of Twenty-Four Mission. We have also noted O.TH3688 which contains some pertinent points about the possible presentational difficulties with what might look like a 'West Irian solution'.3

  1. We have studied in particular the practical possibilities over the next week or so, to the extent that this is possible without knowledge of Portuguese intentions. There is one general consideration which needs to be borne in mind. Although Portugal has achieved a remarkable renaissance in the United Nations since last year the Portuguese reputation is not yet entirely restored. It is possible that they are underestimating the likely reaction in the United Nations if at a time when they are failing badly in the final stages in Angola they seem at the same time [to be] trying to abdicate their responsibilities in Timor. Any attempt simply to drop Timor into the lap of the United Nations without sensible and apparently workable proposals is likely to produce a harsh new reaction against them. On the other hand the United Nations will probably respond helpfully if the Portuguese come with a constructive proposal in which they appear to be squarely accepting their proper responsibilities as the colonial power.
  2. It will be relevant to the Indonesian position also that, should the United Nations admonish Portugal to resume and discharge its proper responsibility in Timor, it might limit Indonesia's room for manoeuvre.
  3. Against this background we can envisage two possible scenarios, both containing some prospect of carrying matters forward but both also bristling with difficulties.
  4. In the first scenario the Portuguese might again communicate with the Secretary-General reporting factually on the present extent of their control of the territory, the humanitarian measures taken, and international assistance so far received and appealing through the Secretary-General for further humanitarian help in the wake of the fighting and breakdown of law and order and essential services. Such a communication would be based on continuing Portuguese responsibility, and would avoid stating that there had been a breach or threat to the peace or international dispute, but might refer to hopes that order would be restored with the help of neighbouring member states. Mention could also be made of the intention of the Portuguese Government to invite the Committee of Twenty-Four to send a mission as soon as feasible to help with the resumption of the decolonisation process. At the same time the Portuguese could write to the Chairman of the Committee of Twenty-Four referring to the letter to the Secretary-General and the need for international assistance to restore normal conditions in the territory and indicating that as soon as possible thereafter they propose to invite the Committee to send a mission to examine and report on the resumption of an orderly process of decolonisation.
  5. The second scenario would be for the Portuguese to accept the reality that the situation is a danger to international peace, to tackle more directly the question of an Indonesian-plus force being introduced and to seek a means of presenting the introduction of this force internationally in a manner acceptable to Portugal, Indonesia and other possible participants.
  6. Under this scenario as soon as enough progress had been made in working out command and control arrangements, Portugal, Indonesia and other possible contributors such as Malaysia or New Zealand could inform the President of the Security Council in more or less simultaneous letters (referring to Article 54 of the Charter) that they were acting together in the interests of the peaceful settlement of a local problem. This action would not of course envisage a Security Council response and although this would have to be examined further, we do not think it need attract one. It would, however, provide some international cover for military action aimed at the restoration of law and order by an essentially Indonesian force. It might provide the means of overcoming the problem of who was inviting whom, leaving the actual conditions of the intervention to be settled privately by the participants.
  7. The Portuguese communication to the President of the Security Council and a corresponding one to the Chairman of the Committee of Twenty-Four could also indicate that at the earliest possible time after the restoration of reasonable conditions Portugal proposed to invite a visiting mission by the Committee of Twenty-Four. The corresponding Indonesian communication to the President of the Security Council could note and welcome this Portuguese proposal and confirm that Indonesia's contribution was aimed precisely at the resumption of the process of decolonisation.
  8. At about this juncture Australia might indicate publicly that it would favour involving the Committee of Twenty-Four in the way proposed. We could have indicated privately in advance that we would be prepared to participate in a mission, but it would be desirable to avoid acting, or appearing to act, in one interest only, if we are to play a constructive role in a visiting mission or indeed to be acceptable as a member.
  9. The Minister has seen the foregoing and considers that, subject to developments in the situation, we should seek preliminary discussions with the Indonesians and Portuguese here within the next day or two to probe whether they have developed any ideas for action in the U.N. and to canvass the two scenarios in paragraphs 5 to 9 on a 'personal thinking' basis.

[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, xiii]