425 Letter from Renouf to Harry

Canberra, 12 February 1976


I thought I should elaborate on my telegram O.CH320004.1

We would not wish to minimise the difficulties facing Winspeare and the Secretary-General in Timor. The harsh reality is that Indonesia seems firmly committed to the incorporation of the territory and that it is unlikely to be deterred whatever the Security Council might say or do.2

Winspeare clearly recognises this, while the Secretary-General came close to acknowledging it at the Canberra Press Club luncheon.3 However, the Secretary-General and Winspeare are, or should be, well versed in coping in the United Nations with this sort of impasse, and it is unlikely that Australia could help them through the political minefields that lie ahead. In principle, the Government hopes for a withdrawal of Indonesian force (as soon as order can be maintained by some other means) to be followed by an act of self-determination in which there is maximum United Nations participation. In reality, it is recognised that Indonesia is most unlikely to withdraw and that United Nations supervision of the act of self­-determination—as distinct from observation—will not be permitted by Indonesia or the provisional government in Dili. In such circumstances the Government feels that the best approach for the moment is to adopt a low profile in New York.

Indeed, even in regard to self-determination (which you have identified as likely to occupy a central place in the Security Council debate) we shall need to be careful in what we say. Our policy supports a genuine act of self-determination. We should have far greater domestic difficulties than most other governments in associating ourselves (for example as part of a UN observer team) with an act which fell short of proper democratic standards and which in effect merely formalised a fait accompli achieved by force of arms.

While it may be true-and natural-that some members of the Security Council will look to Australia for practical suggestions, the Timor issue is a far more delicate exercise for us than for most, and perhaps all, of the Security Council members. We cannot afford to get out in front in New York and we would not wish to encourage the notion either in the Secretariat or amongst Security Council members that Australia can produce some deus ex machina.

[NAA: A1838. 303817/1, x]