93 Submission to Whitlam

Canberra, 22 February 1975


Portuguese Timor

In discussion on 21 February with Mr Renouf you decided that you should send a letter to President Soeharto about the danger of Indonesian military intervention in Portuguese Timor. You also decided that Mr Woolcott should leave for Jakarta on Wednesday, 26 February, to deliver the letter.1

  1. A draft letter to President Soeharto is attached for your consideration. In the letter we have aimed at:
    1. bringing home to the Indonesians the damage that our relations with Indonesia would suffer if the Indonesians were to resort to military force in Portuguese Timor;
    2. placing on record Australian opposition to the use of force in Portuguese Timor; (c) interesting the Indonesians in considering other possible means of containing the dangers which they see in Portuguese Timor.
  2. At the same time we should recognise, as Mr Renouf mentioned to you yesterday, that it is doubtful whether anything can be done which will restrain the Indonesians from a military action if they are bent on it. For this and other reasons it is important that the warning set out in the letter should itself avoid damaging our relations more than is necessary; and we have been concerned in the draft not to fall into a hectoring or remonstrative tone and not to dot all the I's and cross all the T's in describing the likely consequences for our relations with Indonesia and for regional and international affairs of an Indonesian resort to force in Timor. We have also been concerned in the draft to limit so far as is possible our involvement in the problem of Portuguese Timor.
  3. You have seen the letters recently exchanged between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence about Portuguese Timor.2 In a letter of 11 February the Minister for Defence expressed his anxiety about the implications of Portuguese Timor for Australian defence and strategic interests and also for the Government's domestic political position. We have therefore consulted the Department of Defence in drafting the attached letter to President Soeharto but a number of points of difference remain. I advise you to seek the views of the Minister for Defence before settling on the terms of the letter.

Talking Points

  1. In addition we are preparing a substantial series of talking points setting out our views on Portuguese Timor. These might be used by Mr Woolcott when he goes to Jakarta. They would also be useful when General Surono comes here shortly and on other occasions.

Other Governments

  1. The question arises of the extent to which we should tell other Governments of what we are saying to the Indonesians and ask them to do the same. Our view is that we should keep our exchanges with the Indonesians very much to ourselves at least for the time being. Among other countries we think that only the United States are likely to have much influence on Indonesia. I recommend that we should tell the United States what we are doing and that we should also keep the New Zealanders informed. The latter are already aware of our intention of approaching the Indonesians.3


Acting Deputy Secretary

[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, viii]