Memorandum of Conversation between Presidents Ford and Suharto, 5 July 1975, 12:40 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.

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Memorandum of Conversation between Presidents Ford and Suharto, 5 July 1975, 12:40 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.  (1975) 

Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, National Security Adviser Memoranda of Conversations, Box 13, July 5, 1965 - Ford, Kissinger, Indonesian President Suharto Document

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This document records a conversation between Suharto and Ford at Camp David on July 5, 1975, five months before the invasion of East Timor. Speaking only a few months after the collapse of the Thieu regime in South Vietnam, the two presidents shared a tour d'horizon of East Asian political issues, U.S. military assistance to Indonesia, international investment, and Portuguese decolonization. Fearing greater political and ideological ferment in the region following the Communist victory in Vietnam, Suharto saw his ideological concoction "Pancasila" (possibly misspelled "Pantechistita" in the document) as useful, no doubt because its emphasis on consensus excluded any oppositional political activity.(19) Not taking “consensus” for granted, Suharto wanted U.S. help in building up his military machine to increase its mobility for dealing with insurgent elements, noting that, “Especially at this moment, intelligence and territorial operations are very important.” Ford proposed setting up a joint commission to scrutinize Suharto's military request but wanted Kissinger to settle the details.

Suharto brought up the question of Portuguese decolonization in East Timor proclaiming his support for “self-determination” but also dismissing independence as unviable: “So the only way is to integrate [East Timor] into Indonesia.” Without mentioning Fretilin by name, Suharto misleadingly characterized it as “almost Communist” and criticized the group for boycotting the decolonization meeting in Macao. Suharto claimed that Indonesia did not want to interfere with East Timor's self-determination but implied that it might have to because “those who want independence are those who are Communist-influenced.”

While Lisbon still had legal sovereignty over East Timor, apparently neither Ford nor Suharto discussed the implications for Indonesian policy. Although Washington had worked closely with the Salazar dictatorship that ruled Portugal for decades, it was now deeply suspicious of the new social democratic regime in Lisbon; with its exaggerated concerns about a Communist coup, the Ford administration considered the possibility of expelling Portugal from NATO and supporting an independence movement in the Azores (where the U.S. had important military facilities). Thus, from Ford's and Kissinger's perspective in 1975, Portugual's role in the region was of little interest and did not pose an important obstacle to Indonesian action. That some left-leaning Portuguese officers had contacts with Fretilin undoubtedly made the White House even less inclined to concern itself with Portugal's response to Indonesian action in East Timor.