248 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 2 October 1975


Portuguese Timor: Talks

Our accompanying telegram contains the text as monitored by FBIS of a Jakarta domestic service radio bulletin to the effect that UDT and APODETI are now willing to attend talks with the Portuguese. UDT leader da Cruz was reported as having confirmed his willingness to attend such a meeting in a telegram to the Portuguese President.

  1. If these reports are correct, they would represent a significant breakthrough and would suggest that Indonesian policy has returned to the point of a week or two ago when they were publicly supporting a new round of Macao-style talks.
  2. You will no doubt be covering this new development in the assessment foreshadowed in your telegrams JA.2145 and JA.2188.1
  3. You will also now have received our CH.273763 reporting Horta's comments on the prospects for talks.2 While it seems that FRETILIN is still resisting the concept of round table talks at which UDT and APODETI would participate on the same basis as FRETILIN, the FRETILIN leaders have come some way (if Horta is to be believed) from their earlier position of refusing to recognise any role for the other parties. The FRETILIN leaders are no doubt motivated by their conviction that they are dealing from strength. But we may also be witnessing a first indication that FRETILIN is accommodating to Indonesian pressures. FRETILIN's expressed wish to send a delegation to Jakarta, and the efforts being made to represent FRETILIN as an organisation now dominated by moderate and conservative elements, point in the same direction.
  4. There is, of course, still a long way to go before any agreement that talks should be held is likely to be reached. It remains to be seen whether the FRETILIN leadership stands by Horta's softer line. In addition, FRETILIN will need to go much further than Horta contemplates by way of allowing a substantive role for the other parties. The Portuguese would clearly need to bring their influence to bear here. Horta foreshadowed in his discussions with the Department that he might be proceeding to Lisbon within the next few days for discussions with the Portuguese Government.
  5. On the Indonesian side, we still need confirmation that the Jakarta broadcast does indeed reflect a change in the UDT/APODETI (and Indonesian) position. In this connection, there would seem advantage in our making a further effort to bridge the communications gap between the Portuguese and Indonesians in regard to the Santos plan. We should therefore like Cooper to make a further approach to the Portuguese (perhaps Cruz) to try to persuade them to spell out to the Indonesians the full details of the Santos plan, including the integration aspects.3

    Jakarta has suggested that this might be done in a special Ministerial message (which could pose difficulties) or even by the despatch of another Presidential emissary. But if the Portuguese were to work through Girao, it would seem important that he be authorised to inform the Indonesian Government explicitly that the Santos plan, in its entirety, was endorsed at the highest levels in the Portuguese Government.

  6. We recognise the weaknesses in the Santos approach. As Tjan says (JA.2188) it seems to amount to little more than a return to the kind of vague assurances that the Portuguese have been giving to the Indonesians over the last twelve months. The problem, of course, is that the Portuguese are still reluctant to come fully to terms with integration and do not yet know of an internationally acceptable means of achieving it. The argument that FRETILIN will be forced by the logic of events to accept integration is simply not convincing and the Indonesians are unlikely to find it so. Nevertheless, if the Portuguese could persuade the Indonesians that Portugal was genuinely in favour of integration, and was prepared to use what political influence it had to this effect in any revived Macao program, this could be helpful in persuading the Indonesians to go along with a new round of talks.
  7. In any event, Australian policy supports, and needs to be seen to be supporting, further talks even if we are not overly optimistic about their outcome. Any alternative course could run Australian policy into very substantial difficulties. In this connection we cannot but view with considerable apprehension the information conveyed in JA.21614 foreshadowing a substantial acceleration in Indonesian armed intervention in Portuguese Timor. As Tjan himself acknowledges this activity is certain to become widely known. The Australian Government could then come under strong domestic pressure to dissociate itself from Indonesian policies.
  8. The other aspect to all this is that, unless the Portuguese can succeed in getting talks under way, the issue is likely to end up in the United Nations. It may well be that events, including Indonesia's military activities, are leading in that direction anyway, and that we and the Indonesians should now be conditioning ourselves to this prospect.
  9. One further problem is that of the Portuguese prisoners held by UDT. It would indeed be unfortunate were the return of the detainees to become a sticking point, obstructing the holding of talks. We should hope that if the Indonesians are now prepared to rethink the option of talks, they would also consider whether the UDT should not be brought to accept the advantages of releasing the prisoners. We recognise that UDT and the Indonesians may regard the prisoners question as a point of leverage on the Portuguese. But it is clear that a unilateral gesture by the UDT releasing the prisoners would significantly improve the atmosphere and prospects for negotiations.

    For Lisbon

  10. Grateful if you could speak again to the Portuguese in terms of paragraph 6 above.

[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/ll/1, xiv]