329 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 6 November 1975,5.00 p.m.


Portuguese Timor: Call on Foreign Minister

I called on Melo Antunes this morning. I said that I had read the Rome communique carefully and my initial reaction was that it seemed almost too good to be true. Did it represent a real breakthrough in Portuguese/Indonesian relations?

  1. Antunes replied that he believed there was now agreement between Portugal and Indonesia on the principles to be observed in the decolonization of Portuguese Timor. Obviously there were differences in points of view expressed in Rome, but on fundamentals the Minister thought that a satisfactory understanding had been reached. The meeting had, he believed, been an important step in clarifying relations with Indonesia.
  2. Antunes went on to say that a telegram had already been despatched to FRETILIN proposing round table talks between 15 and 20 of this month, and that the Portuguese Embassy in Jakarta had been instructed to enlist Indonesian cooperation in conveying a similar proposal to UDT and APODETI. Antunes said he favoured Darwin as the venue.
  3. I queried the proposed venue, and said I understood that in Rome Portugal had indicated a preference for the talks to be held on Portuguese territory-namely Macao. Without specifically denying this, Antunes said that in his view Darwin would be the best site and asked me to seek the Australian Government's concurrence in this proposal (presumably if the parties also agreed).
  4. The Minister then referred to the general problem of logistics and said that without a 'guarantee' from the Australian Government that Darwin could be used on a regular basis for refuelling ships and as a point from which to maintain regular air transport communications with Atauro, it would be quite impossible for Portugal to achieve its objective of rapid and peaceful decolonization in Timor. The Minister added that if this objective were not achieved because of lack of facilities, the consequences would be 'catastrophic' for Timor and, he believed, 'disagreeable' for Australia. He therefore asked me to seek a guarantee of logistic support from the Australian Government as soon as possible.
  5. I said that the Australian Government naturally welcomed the Rome agreement and wished to do what it could to promote the objectives agreed on in Rome (our offer to provide a venue for talks was evidence of this) but 'guarantee' was a strong word. I could not see the Australian Government giving an open ended undertaking to underwrite in a logistic sense the decolonization of Timor. As the Minister knew, we had always taken the view that this was a Portuguese responsibility. Governments did not normally give 'guarantees' in respect of situations in which they were not a party principal. Moreover, I did not entirely share the Minister's view that our aid was indispensable. In view of the understanding reached with Indonesia in Rome, should not the Indonesians be asked to assist with some of these logistic problems? I was sure that my Government wished to be helpful, but we did not regard ourselves as having any exclusive role in this area.
  6. Antunes replied that he took the point, but the fact was that, of the three parties in Timor, Indonesia was supporting two of them, and Portugal could not discharge its obligations there without Australia's help, since it was recognised and accepted by all interested parties that we were neutral in respect of the various contenders for power in Timor.
  7. This part of the discussion concluded by my saying that I would seek your views on the matter, but that I did not think that any assistance we might give would be pursuant to any form of guarantee.

[matter omitted]1

  1. Antunes seems to have convinced himself that, as a result of the Rome talks, relations with Indonesia are now on a satisfactory footing. This is of course to be welcomed as far as it goes. But it seems that so far both sides have been content to agree on some general principles of decolonization. The real test will come when efforts are made to implement them on the ground. The fact that Antunes regards Australian help as indispensable is a reflection of his distrust of Indonesian intentions. Incidentally he did not refer to Portugal's rejection of the Indonesian proposal for a joint peace-keeping force to maintain peace and order.

[NAA: A1838, 49/2/111, viii)