461 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 8 June 1976

O.LB891 SECRET PRIORITY

East Timor

For Acting Secretary; For Woolcott

We would agree with the first part of the Indonesian assessment in Paragraph 3 of O.JA7033.1 As we have stated before, Antunes and the Sixth Provisional Government are not disposed to making Indonesia's legal problems over sovereignty in East Timor easy. If integration were recognised by the United Nations, Portugal would accept it, but not otherwise. The prisoners' issue is seen as a separate question and not a bargaining point.2

  1. On the question of a different view being held by the Timor Cabinet, the Indonesians may not be aware of recent developments regarding the Cabinet's status. There has been much criticism of the Cabinet, its advice to the Government, and its director, Lemos Pires, over recent months, which we have reported. In the last few weeks, Pires, Mota and Jonatas have been removed from their positions and the Cabinet moved out of the President's Office. It is now being reconstituted with a new director (Colonel Magalhaes) within the Foreign Ministry. It has therefore come under Antunes' control, at least for the time being.
  2. As a general comment, it is probably true that the military in the Timor Cabinet are more disposed to accepting the PGET view that the prisoners' issue is part of the overall Timor problem and are not as concerned as the Foreign Ministry with the legal problems of sovereignty. With the above reorganisation, however, Timor policy must now be considered as residing primarily with the Foreign Ministry. In this regard, it should be noted that Antunes' mandate as foreign minister has only a few weeks to run. The next foreign minister in the new government will be a member of the Socialist Party and in our experience the Socialist Party has not yet focussed on Timor as an issue.It is most likely then that, at least in the early weeks of the new government, Antunes' established policy on Timor will prevail, if only because it will have to grapple with more important (in Portuguese terms) and pressing matters.
  3. It follows from the above that we doubt that there will be any major changes in Portugal's Timor policy before the Presidential election.3 The outgoing administration and President have already refrained from taking major decisions in even the more urgent issues facing Portugal. For the Portuguese, Timor is now a relatively minor issue, largely kept alive by the emotive plight of the prisoners. For domestic political reasons the Portuguese government will continue to give at least the appearance of actively seeking the return of the prisoners, but not at the expense of abandoning their legal position over sovereignty.
  4. Portugal's political leaders will be preoccupied through most of July with the formation of a new government. General Eanes, who is likely to be the next president, has no illusions about Portugal's failures in Timor,4 but our impression is that, beyond expressing a wish that the prisoners' issue be resolved as soon as possible, he is likely to leave Timor to the new foreign minister. The prospect, therefore, is for little change in Portugal's Timor policy before Indonesia's formal integration of Timor on 16 August.
  5. We shall be discussing Timor with the Foreign Ministry tomorrow and will report any further relevant comments.

[NAA: Al0005, TS202/1/l, ANNEX 3]