|Subject: USDOS: Roth Press Conference in Jakarta
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[East Timor-related excerpts only]
Press Conference by Stanley O. Roth Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs February 5, 1999 U.S. Embassy, Jakarta, Indonesia
Assistant Secretary Roth: Good morning. Let me say again that it's a pleasure to be back in Indonesia. This is the ninth time that I have visited Indonesia since becoming assistant secretary in August of 1997. That, of course, reflects the enormous importance the United States attaches to developments in this country and to see Indonesia succeed in overcoming its current difficulties.
But I'm not just here as part of a routine trip; I picked this moment for obvious reasons. I thought, now that the election laws have been passed, that it was particularly appropriate to come and to discuss with a range of officials and non-officials--political leaders--whether the laws seemed acceptable and whether they set the basis for free and fair elections.
Let me say that I've had a very wide ranging series of meetings. I have seen many senior government officials, including President Habibie, and I would like to express my appreciation to the president for meeting with me for over an hour. I, of course, saw Foreign Minister Alatas, Defense Minister Wiranto, several other officials, and a broad range of the political leadership-- including people like Megawati, Gus Dur, and, I had just seen Amien Rais at the Davos Conference in Switzerland a few days ago last weekend, so I didn't see him here, but I've gotten his views on the situation as well. ... Finally, let me make a few comments about East Timor. First, on a personal note, I have been working on East Timorese issues for 19 years, since I first visited the island as a congressional staffer. This is the first time in that 19 year period that I am optimistic that there is a basis for a political settlement. I believe that the Habibie government deserves enormous credit for having come up with several different proposals that serve as a basis for serious negotiations. If you're not familiar with the proposals: one for broad-based autonomy; the other, if that is not acceptable, for independence. The Indonesian government, both the president and foreign minister, have described the proposals at great length, and I won't attempt to speak for them. But the point I want to emphasize is that there is now a serious negotiation process underway. Many ideas are on the table. Undoubtedly many more ideas will emerge as the negotiations continue.
Foreign Minister Alatas is on his way to New York for important discussions under UN auspices, and we will see what happens in those negotiations in the next few months. But I think this is a very different period than we have faced for most of the past 22 years, when there was not a serious negotiating process underway and there was no flexibility on the part of the government.
Having said all that, let me also make it clear that my government is very concerned about the increase in violence on the ground, the deterioration in the situation on East Timor itself. I discussed this at great length, including with General Wiranto. I agreed with Gen. Wiranto when he told me that he liked Xanana Gusmao's idea that all parties should have their weapons taken away and there should be a cease-fire and an end to the violence. I think that this will be a very important measure. If the situation on the ground deteriorates, it could overtake the negotiating processes that I have just described. I think the fact that the Indonesian government--at least in the person of the defense minister--is considering the proposal on how to break the cycle of violence on the ground, and considering how the factions might be disarmed on both sides, is important. I should emphasize he didn't say that it was a done deal, that there was a way to do this yet, or that it is being implemented. But the fact that he agreed in principle with Xanana Gusmao and that it was under consideration, I think, was significant.
I also discussed the situation, obviously, with Minister Alatas. We discussed whether there would be other confidence-building measures that could be taken on the ground in the short term, to try to set a better stage for the negotiations themselves. But it is imperative that all parties refrain from violence in order to give the diplomatic process a chance.
In terms of my own government's position, we believe that any outcome acceptable to the parties is acceptable to us. When a sensitive international negotiation is underway, we do not feel that it is appropriate to take a position for one proposal or against another. We will support the outcome and the parties themselves.
Finally, let me reiterate our long-standing position that we are prepared to be helpful. The United States is prepared to be helpful in any way that it can, if so requested by the parties. For the moment the negotiations are in an international mechanism under the secretary general's auspices with Ambassador Marker and I think that's, at the moment, the key negotiation.
Q: How will the future course of East Timor be decided? There are so many options.
Roth: Well, as I just said, and let me elaborate a bit, I don't think it's appropriate at a time when the negotiations between the parties are underway for the United States to be choosing the outcome. I think this is up to the parties themselves, and, of course, for the Timorese people to be involved in this process goes without saying, so that decisions are made acceptable to all the parties. It not for us to try to offer a particular outcome. What I wanted to commend is the process, the fact that there are so many proposals out on the table and that serious negotiations are ongoing and getting high-level attention.
Q: Mr. Roth, one of the criticisms of what is happening now is that there doesn't seem to be any mechanism in place for really determining the wishes of the people of East Timor. There has been a long-standing proposal that the best way of doing so is to hold some kind of act of self-determination at some point in the process, and that act of self-determination could well be a UN-supervised referendum. While the U.S., as you've said, doesn't want to be prescriptive, does it nonetheless feel that there ought to be clearer ways forward in principle for determining the wishes of the people of East Timor?
Roth: First, I think it's important to stress that, in his conversations with me, Foreign Minister Alatas emphasized that there had to be a way to get the opinions of the people of East Timor and how that would be brought to bear in any agreement that was reached, if an agreement is reached, in the process. So this is very much on the mind of the Indonesian government themselves, and I think that is a very important point. Second, I can think of many different ways in which one could obtain the views of the people of East Timor, and I don't think it's appropriate to come down in favor of one particular approach. But, as a matter of principle, the United States believes that it's important for the views of the people of East Timor to be taken into account in this process. They have to be involved in one form or another. Again, I can envision many different ways in the negotiating process. But, clearly, if an agreement is going to be reached and implemented, it has to be acceptable to the people of East Timor.
Q: In your talks with General Wiranto, did he give any indication that ABRI might effect a sudden withdrawal of its forces from East Timor, given warnings by all the parties there of the prospect of increased bloodshed and almost civil war if the military pulled out, particularly against the background of the arming of the paramilitaries?
Roth: Not at all. General Wiranto made no threats, no hints. What he said was that he would implement the decisions of the government as part of the government.
Q: Was there any pressure from your government that made Indonesia take the decision on giving alternatives to East Timor? If the answer is `yes,' would you relate this to any financial assistance that you provide to Indonesia?
Roth: Let me state categorically that we have not in any way attempted to pressure the Indonesian government on a specific outcome for East Timor--we certainly have not tried to use our foreign assistance as leverage to force the Indonesian government to do something that it did not want to do. Our principles have been well known all along: we have been supporting the UN-sponsored negotiating process. We have said publicly, we have said privately to the government, that we will support any outcome that the parties themselves reach. I do not consider that to be pressure. I consider that to be responsible. I think it is the act of a friend trying to help Indonesia resolve a very difficult problem that has bedeviled Indonesia's international reputation for 22 years.
Q: Mr. Roth, you spoke appreciatively of the Indonesian Government's moves to open up the negotiating process on the status of East Timor, including the option of independence. Nonetheless, given what is happening in Aceh and the separatist stirrings in Irian Jaya and some other parts of Indonesia, do you not think that there is a risk that the East Timor precedent may embolden other separatist-prone parts of Indonesia to try to break away? Is the U.S. concerned about that prospect?
Roth: Again, let me start from the principle that any settlement acceptable to the parties is acceptable to us. If the Indonesian government makes the determination that it is acceptable if the autonomy plan is rejected that East Timor then be given independence by a decision by the MPR, I think that is a decision that the United States should respect. We should not be in a position of telling Indonesia what it can and cannot do. That's unacceptable. I think the government has made it very clear, certainly did in its meetings with me, that the broad-based autonomy is their very distinct preferred preference. And let me say that one should not pre-judge the outcome, that it is, necessarily, a `no,' that negotiations are underway. I want to emphasize: the fact that several distinct proposals are out on the table does not mean that those are the only things that can be talked about. Right? One would expect when there are proposals that there will be counter proposals. One would expect the UN, through Ambassador Marker, to be playing its role. So, this is a negotiating period, and we have not necessarily heard the last word on the final product. But your question shouldn't presume, first of all, that autonomy negotiations necessarily fail; if they do choose the independence route, I think we would have to respect the judgment of the Indonesian government.
Q: Mr. Roth, do you consider the possibility to send, maybe in the framework of the United Nations, if the situation on the ground is deteriorating in East Timor, peacekeepers to that territory to maintain security there?
Roth: I would phrase it differently. In terms of trying to break the cycle of violence and to restore confidence to help the negotiations, I think that one of the things that would help would be a larger international presence on East Timor. There are many possible ways to do that--you have mentioned the maximum one, which is an international peacekeeping presence, which, of course, would require UN approval and possibly a large operation, great expense and, of course, the approval of the Indonesian government. Short of that step, I can see many other ways of trying to increase the international presence, whether it's through establishment of offices, whether it's specialized agencies, whether it's more NGOs. I can think of many different ways to try to bring in more international people to try to serve as a deterrent to violence and to be a confidence-building measure.