Subject: abc: E Timor loses faith in gas talks

East Timor's Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, has launched a scathing attack on the Federal Government over the renegotiation of a gas deal.

A December deadline has been set to agree to the division of billions of dollars worth of gas reserves in the Timor Sea, which lies between Australia and East Timor.

Greater Sunrise gas field operator Woodside Petroleum has threatened to pull out of the operation.

Dr Ramos Horta says the Australian Government has changed its tack on the deal since the election.

He says he has now lost hope of a successful resolution.

"I'm thoroughly disappointed," he said.

"I don't know who to blame - our side remained very reasonable, willing to reach a compromise with Australia, but not a compromise that would leave such a bitter taste in our mouth."

However, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer says the Government has not changed its position.

He says Dr Ramos Horta came to an in-principle agreement with Mr Downer in August on a framework for the deal.

The spokesman says East Timor has rejected any detailed proposition within that framework and the Government is now waiting for East Timor to come up with a new deal.

On again, off again

But the federal Opposition says the Government must get serious about working out a gas deal with East Timor.

Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, says the Government cannot afford to be on again, off again.

"The first responsibility of the Howard Government is to ensure that this matter is resolved as a matter of the highest priority," he said.

"It seems to have slid down the priorities list of the Government rather rapidly, that's unacceptable.

"It should be right up there commanding Cabinet level attention."

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