Subject: Calls for renewed efforts to settle Timor Sea minerals reserves issues

Also: SBS - US Congress Watches Australia Over East Timor Oil

UNITED STATES: Congress calls for fair play over Timor Sea

Fifty-three members of the US House of Representatives have sent a letter to the Australian government calling for fairness in negotiations with East Timor over oil and gas resources. Since talks opened last year, Canberra has refused to accept a timetable or an end date for establishing the maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea.

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Presenter/Interviewer: Mike Woods

Speakers: Barney Frank, US Democrats Congressman

FRANK: "There's such a disparity in resources and political power and economic power, and I should say by the way that as someone interested in East Timor, I'm enormously grateful to Australia for the role it played in establishing that democracy when there was tough situation there militarily, Australia responded with great gallantry and effectiveness and I honour that. But I think the logical ..... is to make sure that the country that really exists probably because the Australians were so willing to be helpful ... that it can prosper and I think if you treat this as the normal sort of legal situation, the normal bilateral negotiation, East Timor is at such a disadvantage vis a vis Australia that it doesn't work well."

"Yes, those I'm asking the Australians I would hope to be a little willing to be more flexible and to give more, given the nature of East Timor. They simply are'nt it seems to me to be capable of standing up to Australia in a typical arms length bilateral negotiation."

WOODS: So your asking Australia not to drag its feet on this issue and get it resolved quickly?

FRANKS: "And to bring in a mediator. I mean I think this is a case where and there are plenty of honest brokers. The UN afterall has a very good record with regard to East Timor and the Australian Government has good relations. I just think there's such an inherent disparity in the power of the two entities that it would be in everybody's interests in terms of fairness to have a third party in it."

WOODS: Some have expressed concern that if this drags on the resources will be depleted and virtually worthless to East Timor. But would you like to see East Timor benefitting now with funds put into ESCRO?

FRANKS: "Yes, this is a very poor country. It is as I said a new democracy. I think all of us who believe in democracy have an interest in this country prospering, in this country surviving. It would mean one more tragedy. We're already over here in our part of the world mourning the collapse of the democratic experiment in Haiti, trying to think of ways to rescucitate it."

"I don't want to see East Timor flounder because of the lack of resources and again given the disparity as a relatively small amount for Australia as a very large amount for East Timor and I would hope the Australian Government would act on that and make sure that there is enough set aside for the East Timorese Government so they can achieve what they should be able to."

WOODS: You've also expressed concern about the frequency of bilateral meetings on the boundary issue between Australia and East Timor?

FRANKS: "Well, I think that again reflects what I've been talking about. For Australia this is one of many issue. For East Timor it's a life or death matter and that's the disparity in terms both power and in terms of importance and the East Timorese should not be asked to wait for the normal diplomatic schedule."

WOODS: What sort of a time frame for the completion of negotiations do you have in mind?

FRANKS: "Well, I would think that once people sat down with a mediator, this should be a matter of months."

WOODS: "But Australia is talking about years?

FRANKS: "Right, now may be there are some technical things that have to be determined before you can do the final thing, but the point you make about ESCRO there are ways to deal with that and certainly within months there were to be significant funds. I mean I don't know how soon technically you can bring in to deal with this. But I would think within months enough could be decided you could start the money flowing."

WOODS: Particularly as Australia and East Timor have now decided on the split. So you see no impediment to those funds being put aside now while these other negotiations continue?

FRANKS: "No physical one. The only impediments are political and that's where I come in. We try to persuade people politically to kind of backdown."

WOODS: What response have you had from Australia?

FRANKS: "There have been some conversations between members of the embassy staff and Daniel Maglinski(pron phon) who is the staff member of my committee who has been taken the meat for us on this and they were preliminary conversations. We just released it, so we were glad that we began conversations, but we aren't any substance yet."







US Congress Watches Australia Over East Timor Oil:

Members of the United States Congress have written to the Australian Prime Minister John Howard urging him to negotiate a fair maritime boundary with East Timor. The letter signed by 53 members of the House of Representatives, criticises the way Australia has negotiated the issue. East Timor has already passed legislation setting the boundary on Australia's side of the so-called median line, to claim lucrative gas fields which until now, Australia has considered its own. But Australia wants the boundary closer to East Timor , and has so far refused to let international tribunals decide the matter. John Miller, spokesperson for the U-S East Timor Network, tells Rebecca Henschke the world is watching closely how Australia handles this issue. HIGH SPEED MP3

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