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For release: 6 December 2001
                                                                                         For more information contact:
                                                                                         William Burr (202) 994-7032
                                                                                         Michael Evans (202) 994-7029

Ford and Kissinger Gave Green Light to Indonesia's Invasion of East Timor, 1975:
New Documents Detail Conversations with Suharto

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Security Archive at George Washington University today published on the World Wide Web previously secret archival documents confirming for the first time that the Indonesian government launched its bloody invasion of Portuguese East Timor in December 1975 with the concurrence of President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.  Since then, the Suharto regime that sponsored the invasion has disintegrated, and East Timor has achieved independence, but as many as 200,000 Timorese died during the twenty-five year occupation.

Twenty-six years ago today, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Indonesian President Suharto during a brief stopover in Jakarta while they were flying back from Beijing.  Aware that Suharto had plans to invade East Timor, and that the invasion was legally problematic—in part because of Indonesia's use of U.S. military equipment that Congress had approved only for self-defense—Ford and Kissinger wanted to ensure that Suharto acted only after they had returned to U.S. territory.  The invasion took place on December 7, 1975, the day after their departure, resulting in the quarter-century long violent and bloody Indonesian occupation of East Timor.  Henry Kissinger has consistently denied that any substantive discussion of East Timor took place during the meeting with Suharto, but a newly declassified State Department telegram from December 1975 confirms that such a discussion took place and that Ford and Kissinger advised Suharto that “it is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly.”  Two key documents released today were declassified by the Gerald R. Ford Library at the request of the National Security Archive; Archive staffers located other documents at the National Archives.  Today’s revelations include:

  • When Suharto told Ford and Kissinger that he was about to order an invasion, the response was only to caution that "it would be better it it were done after we returned" (the invasion began the next day).
  • Kissinger told Suharto that the use of U.S.-supplied arms in the invasion—equipment that under U.S. law could not be used for offensive military operations—“could create problems,” but indicated that they might be able to “construe” the invasion as self-defense.
  • On 12 August 1975, a few days after a coup attempt in East Timor, Kissinger observed that an Indonesian takeover would take place “sooner or later”.
  • Six months into the occupation of East Timor, Kissinger acknowledged to senior State Department officials that U.S. military aid had been used “illegally” and hinted at his own doubts about the invasion: Washington had “not very willingly” resumed normal relations with Jakarta.

  •  “This important set of documents reveals the overriding importance that the Ford administration attached to maintaining friendly relations with Indonesia in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam.  Ford and Kissinger plainly viewed the maintenance of warm ties with the Suharto regime as a foreign policy priority that far outweighed any secondary concerns about the possible Indonesian use of force in East Timor--even though the use of such force would … constitute a clear violation of American laws.  The callous disregard for the human rights and political aspirations of the East Timorese are rather breathtakingly exposed in these newly released documents.” --- Robert J. McMahon, Professor of History, University of Florida, and author of The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia Since 1945 (1999)