90 Letter from Pritchett to Feakes

Canberra, 21 February 1975


Thank you for the talking points about Portuguese Timor that you passed to me yesterday evening. I set out some comment below; perhaps, after you have read this, we could meet later in the day.

I take it that the points are intended to cover a variety of occasions, such as your Minister forecast in his letter this week to my Minister.1 I agree that it will be desirable to have such a basic brief, on which Australian spokesmen can draw as appropriate to the particular occasion. However, my first comment is that I doubt that the oral representations envisaged by the production of talking points will meet our purpose. As we discussed yesterday, what appears necessary, if we are to make the impact we seek, is a letter from the Prime Minister to President Suharto, referring back to their September talks, expressing afresh Australian attitudes and stating what new views we have developed. Unless there be greater urgency, and I have not this impression from DJIO, whom I have asked, incidentally, to produce an assessment on timings to-day or by Monday, General Surono's visit the week after next appears quite adequate for the handing over of a letter. Even so, this still leaves us little time to produce a draft and have a final text agreed by Ministers.

In considering what the contents of a letter should be, I have reservations about some of the talking points you have given to me, and I indicate these later on. My primary reaction is that the points do not go far enough. Over here we feel that to represent our concern to the Indonesians, to urge them to change their tack, accept the concept of an independent Timorese state and work for influence on it, and to offer to support this approach by some economic aid, while all important points for our policy, may not make sufficient impact on the Indonesians. We feel that they are likely to need some more substantial encouragement.

I should like to have your reaction to the following suggestion. In trying to persuade the Indonesians that the Timorese will not choose transfer into the Indonesian state, that Indonesian seizure by force would be most undesirable and that our common interests would best be served by a Timorese state closely associated with Indonesia, I feel that there are considerable attractions in encouraging the Indonesians, and the Portuguese and the Timorese, to arrange that at independence the Timorese enter into a basic treaty relationship with Indonesia. This Treaty, which would be without time limit, could refer to common interests, amity, co-operation and so on, but would contain a key article whereby the parties would agree to consult together about developments affecting their common interests in the security and stability of the region.

I develop this line of thought a little below, but at this point I suggest that it provides a basis on which Indonesia could with some confidence switch from opposition to Timorese political aspirations to support, and to reconciliation with and winning over the Timorese politicians who are now causing them such disquiet. It provides the Indonesians with a way out from the dilemma in which the local Timorese situation on the one hand and our concern about the use of force on the other, will (at least so I hope) place them. It will also offer the Portuguese opportunity to satisfy both the Timorese and the Indonesians. They themselves have pointed out that Timorese independence without Indonesian support would be illusory. As for the Timorese, all interested parties, Portugal, Indonesia and Australia, would be strongly placed to press them to accept an arrangement that satisfied their own aspirations while accommodating the interests of their immediate neighbours. I believe that these points can be developed quite persuasively.

As to the treaty arrangement itself, obviously it would require careful thought and political handling. It could be lost were the Indonesians too greedy and impatient or the Timorese too ambitious or given to haggle. It seems to me, however, that both sides would see tangible advantage in an arrangement under the treaty that, for example, provided for [a]n Indonesian subvention to the Timorese security forces. This would provide the Indonesians with access and influence in an area of prime concern to them and the cash should be welcome to the infant state (and, I imagine, its statesmen!). Whether the treaty should provide for action, as well as consultation, in the common interest, or the establishment of Indonesian defence facilities, are matters for later consideration; and I am sure that other ideas will readily suggest themselves to you.

An arrangement of this nature would be one that we could support, not only in its achievement but afterwards, by political policy, economic aid and some defence aid, all in consultation with both the other parties. Indeed, we could well consider that our interests would be served by some form of association with the treaty-but that thought would perhaps be for later. We should ensure, however, that our status was secured in some manner.

If you see the possibilities in this thinking that we do over here, I suggest that it would be desirable to develop a presentation for inclusion in the Prime Minister's letter that we have discussed.

Turning now to your talking points, it might be best if I attached some detailed comments and kept my comment here to some general aspects. (I know the notes are a first draft, which it is easier to comment on than to write!)

I have already commented that the points could lack persuasive impact. Apart from this, I find them rather too long and too extensive in their coverage; and I wonder is the tone always what we want.

I think it useful to start with a short memorandum of the Australian interest and agree that this be followed by a short review of recent developments and the present situation. Perhaps the thrust of this section might best be the clear Timorese opposition to Indonesian rule and the uncertainty about Portuguese intentions. This would lead naturally into reference to Indonesia's fears and to possible military action. However, you might care to consider whether the flow of the presentation might be better if these sections, B and C in the draft, were kept quite short and followed immediately by a statement of Australia's concern--concern at all lines of development inherent in the situation, the Timorese resistance to Indonesia, Portuguese unpredictability and Indonesia's contemplation of a military solution. This approach would, as they say, set the stage.

I suggest that that statement of Australian concern, which will need careful drafting, be short, but clear and firm. I would drop, I think altogether, the material on other aspects of concern, such as military risks for Indonesia, regional and world reactions, reactions in PNG. I feel it impolitic to speak to the Indonesians in such respects, with any weight anyway; and we would be merely giving our opinion, with which they could well disagree, even if they did not say so. The Australian reaction is the only one on which we can speak with authority, and require them to take into account.

Having stated the problem, I very much hope that you will find attraction in the thinking that I outlined earlier, about a treaty, and that we could then move straight on to presenting that. (I may say that our Minister was attracted when I tried to articulate the notion to him yesterday; but, of course, he has not endorsed it and its status is still that of a proposal to you.)

I mentioned tone. I find the draft not sympathetic enough, even rather nagging here and there. I suggest it will be important that what we say convey an impression of genuine friendship and shared concern, of respect for Indonesia's interests and status and of an Australian perspective of partnership with Indonesia in managing regional problems. I think this will be helped if we keep our line simple and the presentation fairly short.

We discussed procedure. I agree that a short covering submission should suffice and attached would be the draft Prime Minister's letter (via Surono?), the talking points, the recent Ministerial correspondence and, perhaps, a short intelligence note from Foreign Affairs and JIO.

[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/1/7, i]