472 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 23 June 1976



East Timor: Indonesia/Portugal Meeting

Ref O.JA7342 1

  1. In formulating a position on Timor, the new Socialist Government2 will need to have regard to the following considerations:
    1. Portugal has maintained publicly for many months the illegality of Indonesia's actions and has taken the matter to the Security Council. Most recently, in the Foreign Ministry's statement of 17 June, Portugal has reaffirmed that the matter is in the hands of the United Nations.
    2. There have been poor responses (notably from Portugal's NATO allies) to Indonesia's invitations to witness the process of integration. United Nations bodies and the Secretary-General continue to take a tough line with Indonesia. As seen from Lisbon, the world community is supporting the position adopted by Portugal. To change course now and adopt a position at variance with the U.N. would be counterĀ­-productive for Portugal's general foreign policy objectives.It would inter alia, result in a deterioration in relations with Mozambique and Angola (who support Fretilin) and thereby make it more difficult for the Government in future negotiations with these countries on economic, financial and humanitarian problems of far greater magnitude than the question of 23 Portuguese prisoners in Timor.
    3. To adopt a Silva 'solution' as one of its first acts would create an adverse image for a socialist government vis-a-vis Africa, East Europe and the Arabs, which still constitute an important element of Portugal's new foreign policy. It would also provide leftist critics of a socialist government with evidence of a 'sellout' in its dealings with 'reactionary forces'. (A minority socialist government will be very susceptible to pressure from the left.)


  1. Our conclusion is that Morais [da] Silva had a brief (from whom is not clear) to discuss the question of the prisoners and the terms for their release but that he had no authority to enter into any commitments. He is likely to encounter resistance to the course of action he suggests, not only from Antunes but also from the remaining leftists on the revolutionary council, the Socialist party (i.e. the incoming government) and the left of centre press. We doubt therefore that Morais [da] Silva's initiative will resolve the sovereignty issue in the near future and before the Untied Nations has itself taken a position on the integration issue. In the early weeks of a socialist government, we can see no compelling reasons, and in fact, just the opposite, for the Portuguese Government to offer recognition of the PGET in return for the prisoners. We therefore see little prospect of any major change in Portugal's position on Timor, before Indonesia's formal integration of the territory in mid-August. Meanwhile the Portuguese will continue to explore ways and means of securing the release of their prisoners within whatever legal framework is approved by the United Nations.


[NAA: A10005, TS202/l/1, ANNEX 3]