76 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 4 February 1975



I called on Santos this morning as arranged. The Minister said he welcomed my call as he thought the time had come for his government to consult with us and Indonesia about the future of Timor.

  1. Santos said that following his visit to Timor he had concluded that the two main political groups were essentially wanting the same thing. FRETILIN wanted immediate de jure independence but with continued practical links with Portugal for some years at least until Timor was economically viable. UDT wanted continued links with Portugal with eventual independence as the long term solution. In both cases the ultimate objective was the same. Consequently he had suggested to the two parties that they should join together. Thus the recent merger was his idea. Santos observed somewhat ruefully that he had not fully appreciated the problems that merger would bring. Now the accent was on independence with APODETI being regarded [as] 'the enemy'. Portugal did not want the Indonesians to feel that Lisbon was necessarily hostile to their interests. Indeed they recognised the need for close cooperation between Lisbon, Canberra and Jakarta on the Timor question.
  2. This led Santos to outline his proposed 'solution' on Timor. He envisages a period of some years during which Lisbon would retain ultimate responsibility for Timor but would co-operate closely with UDT and FRETILIN. (He dismissed APODETI as being without any local support and thought it would 'disappear'.) At the same time, Australia and Indonesia would through a joint economic aid programme maintain Timor's viability. 'Portugal could not afford to do this alone.' Eventually when circumstances permitted there would have to be an act of self-determination. Santos' own preference was for an election to a constituent assembly because in that way they could exert more influence on the delegates about the outcome than if the question were to be decided by a referendum.
  3. As a first step however, Santos saw a need for a secret tripartite meeting between representatives of the Portuguese, Australian and Indonesian Governments to discuss the proposal further. He thought it unwise for such a meeting to be held in the Timor area as it would be impossible to keep it secret and suggested Lisbon or Paris as possible alternatives. Following a tripartite meeting, Santos envisaged bringing representatives of UDT/FRETILIN to Lisbon and canvassing the proposal with them.
  4. Santos said that he would be discussing his ideas with his colleagues in the Decolonisation Commission within the next few days. Meanwhile he asked me to convey his views to you and seek your comments. He said he would like to see me again in a few days time.


  1. It was not clear from what Santos said whether he envisages that we should approach the Indonesians, but I would imagine that you would want to think very carefully about our own position before broaching the subject in Jakarta. In any event, in my view it is up to the Portuguese to explore their ideas directly with the Indonesians lest we be regarded in Jakarta as to some extent promoting them. Furthermore, Santos' ideas envisage a much greater degree of Australian involvement in Timor's future than you may consider desirable at this stage. I therefore made no comment on the substance of Santos' proposal at all. Also I am not at all sure that Santos' ideas will find much favour with the AFM who may want a much more speedy process.
  2. I did however stress to Santos the importance we attached to a genuine act of self-determination and the possibility that a Mozambique type solution could offer a pretext for Indonesian intervention. Santos accepted this readily enough and recognised that an act of self-determination would be essential at some stage. Incidentally he 'rubbished' Pires by describing him as 'not very intelligent' and implied that he (Pires) had rather made a mess of things. Santos indicated that Pires would be returning to Lisbon in about a week's time.
  3. Other decolonisation topics discussed are reported by separate telegram.


[NAA: A1838, 49/211/1, iv]