378 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 15 December 1975


Portuguese Timor

Ref. 0.CH2992531

In the absence of Antunes (who is still preoccupied with internal matters) I saw the Director­ General of Political Affairs (Cruz) and his Deputy (Villas Boas) today. However before reporting on this interview I want to offer some observations on paragraph 2 of your reftel since it is relevant to any comments we may make this week in the Security Council. What you say about Portuguese irresolution is all true enough but to have hoped for or expected otherwise is to ignore the realities of the political situation in Portugal itself. During the period in question we were dealing first with a pro-Communist Government (under Goncalves) which was openly encouraging the politicisation of the armed forces, and then with one under Azevedo2 which was so weak that its writ did not even run in Lisbon itself. In these circumstances, and apart from the logistic[al] problems of reinforcing the Timor garrison on which I have already commented (our O.LB6343), I am afraid that there was absolutely no prospect of any resolute action by Portugal in Timor at that time.

  1. Unfortunately today's talk with Cruz and Villas Boas did not hold out much hope of any positive action by Portugal in the future. I referred to the prospect of today's Security Council debate and said that although our respective delegations were no doubt concerting in New York, it would be helpful to have some idea of Portugal's objectives, and the nature of the instructions they had sent to New York.
  2. Incredible as it may seem I was told that no repeat no specific instructions had been sent to New York. The Portuguese Ambassador to the United Nations (Teles) had just recently returned to New York from Lisbon and was thoroughly familiar with Portuguese thinking and with the background to the Timor problem. Thus instead of sending instructions to New York, the Foreign Ministry is waiting to hear from their delegation about the outcome.
  3. I nevertheless put to Cruz and Villas Boas the points in paragraph 4 and 7 of your reftel. I stressed that a substantial majority of the United Nations (including Indonesia) still recognised Portugal as the administering power in Timor. It was therefore important that Portugal should reaffirm its continued willingness to discharge its responsibilities in the territory so far as circumstances permitted.
  4. Cruz saw little prospect of Portugal being able to do anything unless Indonesia agreed to withdraw. I said that in view of the public position taken by Malik this was most unlikely. We speculated as to whether Indonesia would agree to let its 'volunteers' be placed under some sort of UN mandate.
  5. Both officials seemed content to leave it to the UN to work out. I said this was simply not good enough. Portugal owed it to her friends who had supported her in the UN-a position that was particularly difficult for Australia-to be prepared to take whatever initiatives were open to her. Otherwise they would simply be proving Indonesia's point-that Portugal was unable and unwilling to do anything to permit the Timorese to decide their own future.
  6. We speculated about the possibility of reactivating the question of holding talks in New York. All the parties concerned were present in New York. I suggested that Portugal had nothing to lose by showing a willingness to hold talks in New York or anywhere else. We also discussed the prospects for a UN visiting mission and the security problems this entailed.
  7. My general impression is that Portugal is still hoping that the United Nations will somehow resolve the problem and, that there is very little positive thinking being done in Lisbon. Condemnation of Indonesia is the overriding concern and it is going to be very difficult to persuade the Portuguese to focus on more positive aspects of the problem.
  8. Incidentally I am now scheduled to see Antunes at 1300 hours tomorrow Tuesday


[NAA: Al838, 906/30/14/3, ii]