321 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 4 November 1975


Portuguese Timor: Rome Talks

Ref O.JA2832, O.JA2834 1

We should be glad to be kept informed, as Tjan has promised, of the outcome of the Rome talks as further information becomes available. However, Tjan's account and press reports of the communique issued by the two Foreign Ministers suggest a fairly satisfactory result. In reply to a question in the Senate today (4 November) the Minister welcomed the outcome of the talks. He noted that the Government 'had long urged that a solution to the problems of Portuguese Timor should be sought through talks between Portugal and all the Timorese parties'. He added that the Government had also 'consistently held that any durable solution must recognise the importance of the Indonesian interest in the territory'. We are considering proposing to the Minister that he consider tabling the text of the Rome communique when it becomes available.

  1. For your further discussions with the Indonesians about the Rome talks, you may like to have an indication of Departmental thinking which is included in the following paragraphs.
  2. An immediate question is how the Rome talks will affect Indonesian policy. To some extent, we imagine that the Indonesians will regard the agreement as window-dressing which will not deter them from the pursuit of their objectives in Portuguese Timor. We have in mind what General Moerdani told you on 15 October (JA24612) that the Rome talks would not affect the 'continuing operation on the ground'. This theme had earlier (JA24293) been foreshadowed by Adenan when he observed that 'what really was important was the progress on the ground in Portuguese Timor'. Your JA34324 is also relevant as are the Embassy's various discussions with Tjan.
  3. On the other hand, Malik in private (JA24985) as well as in public has suggested a line of Indonesian policy which would be satisfied simply by an assertion of Portuguese sovereignty and a willingness on Portugal's part to deal with all three Timorese parties-in other words, by what the Portuguese seem to have agreed to at Rome. We also have in mind what Sunarso said on 29 October (JA2752) that Indonesia's objective at Rome would be a return to a Macao­ style decolonization procedure which would eventually lead to a referendum, the result of which Indonesia could 'influence'.
  4. In any event, it is possible to speculate that the Indonesians might see in the agreement with the Portuguese a reason for limiting their military involvement in Portuguese Timor. The agreement may provide you with opportunities for pursuing with the Indonesians some of the ideas which we have canvassed with you previously (for instance, in paragraph 6 of our CH2816086). The present level of Indonesian military involvement was the result of a breakdown in the Macao program. What would be the Indonesian reaction in the event that something like the Macao program were revived? We shall want to know to what extent Indonesia is genuinely interested in negotiations rather than a military solution. A ceasefire in the territory, on the need for which the Portuguese and the Indonesians are now said to agree, would, of course, lie very much in the Indonesians' hands. But there are other questions arising from the Rome talks. How seriously have the Indonesians and the Portuguese explored the possibility of getting Fretilin and UDT-APODETI to the same negotiating table? Are there any understandings about the time to be allowed for the talks between the parties to be arranged and about what might happen in the event of a failure to arrange talks (or of a breakdown in the talks)? What are the implications of the agreement (mentioned in press reports of the communique issued after the Rome talks) on the need to restore peace and order in the territory?
  5. We have previously suggested to you that any future agreement among the parties concerned on the decolonization of Portuguese Timor might well be endorsed by various countries in the region, which would recognize, among other things, Indonesia's special interest in Portuguese Timor. It is too early to say whether an agreement on decolonization will result from the new talks now foreshadowed between the Portuguese and the three parties. But the fact that the talks in Rome seem to have produced some agreement between the Indonesians and the Portuguese is a welcome step forward, whatever reservations the Indonesians-or the Portuguese-may have about the agreement and whatever uncertainties lie ahead.
  6. The question arises whether there might not be some value in regional countries now expressing their approval of what has been achieved. With the Minister's answer in the Senate today, the Australian Government is already on record as endorsing the outcome of the Rome talks although we are considering suggesting to the Minister that once we have full details he should take the opportunity to express Australia's support in a more formal way.The Indonesians may find it useful, however, if similar expressions of approval also came from other capitals in the region, especially as, according to Tjan, they and the Portuguese had agreed that the interests of countries in the region had to be taken into account in reaching a solution of the Portuguese Timor problem (an agreement which seems to reflect a welcome development in Portuguese thinking).
  7. Some sort of modest regional approval for the outcome of the Rome talks might have the advantage, along with the outcome of the talks itself, of providing a framework for a regional approach to the problem of Portuguese Timor in the United Nations.
  8. In this regard, we note that the Indonesians and the Portuguese are said to have agreed that no action should be taken to 'internationalize' the problem of Portuguese Timor and that it was 'premature' to refer the matter to the United Nations. The fact is, however, that the question of Portuguese Timor is already in the United Nations and we still need to give thought to the approach that we, the Indonesians and the Portuguese and the countries of the region should adopt towards the United Nations consideration of Timor. The advice in New York's UN49147 reinforces us in our view of the need for regional countries to seize the initiative before countries like Tanzania or Mozambique do so. You should also know that we have had confirmation8 that the Tanzanians in New York are under an injunction from President Nyerere to assist the Fretilin position in the Fourth Committee. In short, then, whatever has been agreed at Rome, Indonesia would be well advised to consider how the question of Portuguese Timor should be approached in the Fourth Committee later this month.


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