39 Cablegram to Canberra

New York, 26 September 1974


Portuguese Timor

For Prime Minister from Willesee

I talked today with Malik and with Soares about Portuguese Timor, as a result of which I think all three of us have arrived at an acceptable understanding (if at this stage necessarily broad and tentative) of how events there should develop over the next several months. Soares and Malik had also discussed the matter before I talked with them.

  1. Soares said that while Portugal intended to conduct referenda in all its former territories Timor was not an urgent case and no referendum would be held before Portuguese general elections in March 1975. A referendum earlier would be premature and might lead to the possibility of power in Timor being handed over to unrepresentative groups. After giving me his preliminary thoughts on how the referendum might be conducted, Soares stressed that he wanted Portugal and Australia (and Indonesia) to stay in close contact over the corning months of preparation, a wish I said I reciprocated. Soares said he had spoken in terms similar to the above to Malik, who had told him Indonesia intended not to intervene, which intervention in any case Portugal could not accept. He also told me that Portugal intended to send its Minister for Overseas Territories to Timor shortly to assess the situation for himself and I suggested he might then go on to Canberra for talks with us.
  2. I told Soares I had found his presentation reassuring, since I thought the principal need from Australia's point of view was that important groups within Australia and the public generally should be sympathetic to whatever course of action was taken affecting Timor's future: in particular we needed to avoid any suggestion that a deal was being done between outside powers to hand over the former territory to Indonesia, over the heads of the local inhabitants. From our point of view, to achieve this would naturally require some form of U.N. blessing. (The matter might appropriately be raised, possibly by ourselves, in the Committee of Twenty-Four when it meets in April next year.)
  3. When I described this account to Malik later, he told me that Soares had put the same points to him, emphasizing in particular Portugal's wish for close contact with both Australia and Indonesia to ensure steady progress towards an acceptable act of ascertainment. Malik discounted the possibility of outside (specifically Chinese) interference in Timor. In turn I repeated that I believed it was essential to prepare Australian opinion-already critical of Indonesia for its treatment of political prisoners—for the course which we both agreed would have least problems in the long run, that of eventual incorporation of Timor into Indonesia. If on the other hand it were handled in a precipitate and hole-in-comer fashion I said we could expect mounting domestic criticism of what would be taken to be Australian connivance with Indonesia, with obvious effects on Indonesian/Australian relations.
  4. You will probably wish to have this telegram repeated to Furlonger and Cooper.

[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/1, xivA]