Cablegram to Canberra

Washington, 21 January 1963

1.1895/207 SECRET

For Barwick from Beale

On Thursday night, January 17th, I saw Pedro Pereira, the Portuguese Ambassador, an old diplomatic hand and, according to reports, in the confidence of Salazar.

  1. We talked about Portuguese Timor, and he said that there was no doubt that Soekarno intended to get it. I said that I hoped he would agree that Australia had given evidence of its friendly feelings towards Portugal, both through the terms of my Prime Minister's letter to his President,1 and in other ways. He said he did agree and that the Portuguese Government was grateful for this. I then said that I was speaking for myself but, having just had talks with the State Department about Timor, I felt that Portugal's present attitude, if unchanged, would make it difficult for her friends to give her the full diplomatic and political support they would wish in the event of an attempted take-over by Soekarno. In particular, the United States had a long tradition of opposition to colonial rule, and, although the United States was completely opposed to Soekarno's ambitions, it would feel greatly inhibited in giving support to Portugal if the latter's present stand remains unchanged.
  2. I said I knew my Prime Minister had written to his President last year,2 on aspects of the colonial problem relating in particular to the United Nations, but, regarding the specific problem of Timor, I would like to know whether he (Pereira) thought it would be possible for the Portuguese Government to take some steps or come out with some announcement indicating the Governments intention to introduce welfare or education measures and generally to indicate their intention to give the natives an opportunity for self-determination.
  3. Pereira said that Portugal had already refused to accede to this sort of suggestion in the United Nations because she regarded Timor as part of metropolitan Portugal. I said 'I know that Pedro, and I do not dispute the legality of Portugal's position, but the fact is that such a stand is unacceptable either to the majority in the United Nations or to the United States Government. On the one hand there is Soekarno's obvious intention to take Portuguese Timor if it can, and, on the other, there is the difficulty her friends have, and the United States in particular, in giving fuller support to you because of the position you take up. Is it possible for your Government to adjust itself to this position so that others may be free to give more support? Doing so would not ensure success, but not doing so would make failure more likely'.
  4. Pereira said, 'I am very interested in what you say. I had not thought of the matter the way you put it, and I would like suggestions from you as to what my Government might say or do. If you will let me have these, I will send them on to my President-if you wish as if they were my own proposals'.
  5. It may be that, if the Government decided to make representations to Portugal as urged by Harriman, the Prime Minister would wish to make them direct to the President of Portugal. If not, I should be glad of your advice as to whether I should pursue this matter with Pereira any further; and, if I should, what suggestions I should make to him.3

[NAA: Al838, 3038/10/1, ii]