Discussion with President Soeharto
I presented my credentials to President Soeharto this morning. Text of speeches exchanged by separate telegram.
- After presentation I had 25 minutes substantive private discussion with President about proposed visit to Australia and Timor. He said he would like fuller discussion when it could be arranged probably next week on both subjects.
- President's speech and manner was very warm and there is no evidence of any coolness as a result of recent attitudes in Australia although the President said there seemed to have been some over-reaction there to inaccurate press reports of possible Indonesian military intervention in Timor.
- Soeharto said categorically that Indonesia had 'no intention' of attempting to integrate Portuguese Timor by military force. He asked me to pass this assurance on to the Prime Minister. President added Indonesia had been in the vanguard of anti-colonial movements and wanted to see orderly and proper decolonisation process in Portuguese Timor. Moreover Indonesia did not want to impair its improved international standing. Nor did it want to see disturbed the situation in South East Asia and the Pacific. The President also said 'we love independence but we love peace more'. President invited me to nominate officer of Embassy to accompany senior Indonesian officer to visit border between Portuguese Timor and Indonesian Timor to see both refugees from Portuguese side and lack of preparations on Indonesian side for military operations. Although Taylor has just returned he did not visit border area. This seems a good idea, and I propose to follow it up.
- President also said however that pro-Indonesian elements in Timor were being persecuted and this created difficulties for Indonesian Government.
- I said the Prime Minister as his letter showed, had not moved away from the position he had adopted in Yogyakarta and Wonosobo in September, at which he had said that the future of Portuguese Timor, including the possibility that it become part of Indonesia, would need to be the outcome of the properly expressed wishes of its people and that there should be an act of self-determination.
- While the Government appreciated Indonesia's important and legitimate interest in the future of Portuguese Timor, it was concerned about the probable effect on the Australian/ Indonesian relationship of the likely parliamentary and public reaction to any Indonesian military action if it were to occur. Press reports in Australia, whether or not they were accurate, had given some foretaste of this.
- What we thought was needed was time to be allowed by the Portuguese for a political solution to be worked out in cooler circumstances, which would take account both of Indonesia's legitimate national interest in the colony's future and the wishes of the people of Timor.
- The President said that there was really no difference in our positions.
- The President said there was a need for high level discussions with the Portuguese Government, and he had instructed Ali Murtopo to go on to London from Algiers to meet a Portuguese minister there. The conversation was temporarily interrupted at this stage and it was not clear whether Ali Murtopo would go on to Lisbon but the impression I had was that talks with Portuguese would, if possible, be in London.
- President thanked me for Prime Minister's letter, which he said he was studying carefully. He hoped to have another chance to talk to me in some detail about Timor and other matters, probably next week.
- I told the President that the Prime Minister had told me before my departure last Sunday that long term importance of the Australian/Indonesian relationship was overriding issue and any possible complications in our relationship should be seen in that context. The President said that he agreed. If problems arose I should always feel free to contact him personally. He added 'you are no stranger to me or to Indonesia'.
- My overall impression, admittedly preliminary, after being here only 5 days, but which is reinforced by Taylor's visit to Timor and the Naval Attache's private discussion in Bali on 6 March with General Pranoto, Commander of KODAM 16, which includes Timor, is that while some influential groups (some hard liners in HANKAM and at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies) here may look to a military solution of the Timor question, this should be seen, at present, not as Indonesian policy, but as one option which might be reluctantly adopted in certain future circumstances. Indonesian Defence planners probably feel a need to have the capacity on the ground to exercise the military option in case the situation in Portuguese Timor deteriorates to a point at which they consider their national interest is threatened.
- But the President and other influential groups seem at present strongly opposed to military intervention and he would, in my view, be most unwilling to authorise it unless he considered situation in Portugal had become hopeless and that there was real danger of chaos, a left-wing takeover in Timor, and the killing of pro-Indonesian elements there.
- Only in such a situation might Indonesia decide that its longer term national interest demanded that it move into Timor, notwithstanding the short term effects this might have on its relations with other countries, especially Australia.
- It seems clear however that there is no likelihood of early action of this type and we should therefore use what influence we have with the Indonesians and the Portuguese to work towards an acceptable political solution and a cooling of the developing animosities between Dili and Kupang and along the border.
- As my calls progress and especially after I have seen the President again, Yoga, Murtopo and Sudharmono, I shall attempt a more considered assessment.
- Suggest you pass this message to Cooper in Lisbon.
[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, vii]