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ETAN Analysis of June 1994 Vote on U.S. Weapons in E Timor

by Charles A. Scheiner

adapted from July 1994 issue of "Network News," the newsletter of the East Timor Action Network

Transcript of Senate debate

For the first time ever, the United States Senate took a contested vote on U.S. policy towards East Timor. On June 29, Indonesia's supporters won a 59-35 roll call vote to table a provision in the Foreign Aid Appropriations Bill. If the provision had stayed in, weapons to be sold by the U.S. government to Indonesia could not be used in East Timor.

Although East Timor's supporters lost this vote, the issue gained increased prominence, and all Senators are now on record. Further debate and probably legislation, will be taken up in the Senate the week of July 11. Now is the time to let your Senators know where you stand, and to encourage them to speak out and vote for East Timor.

The vote came up unexpectedly at 11 at night on Wednesday, June 29. A week earlier, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Foreign Aid Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4226) and included a prohibition against the use in East Timor of U.S. weapons sold to Indonesia. This provision applied to future government-to-government (FMS) arms sales, and in essence restated a U.S.-Indonesia treaty signed in 1958 which restricts the use of U.S.- supplied weapons "solely for legitimate national self-defense" and strictly forbids their use for "an act of aggression against any other state." Since the treaty has been violated for two decades in East Timor, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) persuaded his colleagues that it was time to reaffirm it.

Leahy had negotiated with the State Department and Indonesia's Senate supporters, agreeing to limit the ban to "lethal arms" to placate those who wanted to weaken it. He was led to believe there would not be a floor fight -- but at the last minute Senator Bennett Johnston (D-LA) rose to challenge the measure. Johnston, who has been Indonesia's principal Senate booster, initially got no support from the State Department, and simply voiced his objection to the provision (his speech is appended to this report). Later that evening, Johnston received a letter from Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and made a motion to table Leahy's language. Johnston's motion was debated for half an hour, and then approved on a 59- 35 roll call vote. (See tabulation following this article.)

Although Leahy thought his provision was moderate enough to pass unchallenged, Johnston saw it as much more significant, and said that "the Indonesians are outraged about this language." He seriously objected to the provision "which, in effect, puts an arms embargo on Foreign Military Sales to Indonesia."

Johnston waxed emphatic on Indonesia's importance: "I believe Indonesia deserves the support of the United States. They are the fourth largest country in the world. They are the largest Muslim country in the world. And we keep poking them in the eye." He said that Indonesia was particularly offended because "we are tipping our hat or genuflecting in the direction of those who say East Timor ought to be an independent state."

Johnston received support during the debate from the Defense and State Departments, Minority Leader Robert Dole (KS) and other Republicans, and influential Democratic Senators Sam Nunn (GA), Diane Feinstein (CA), and Charles Robb (VA).

Warren Christopher's letter was self-congratulatory about the Administration "aggressively working with Indonesians" to improve human rights, and falsely claimed (as did Johnston) that the situation in East Timor is improving. He described the State Department's "current policy is to deny license requests for sales of small and light arms and lethal crowd control items to Indonesia," but opposed bans on military training and called the Leahy proposal "unnecessary and inconsistent with our policy objectives."

Leahy defended his proposal as a modest step, and objected to giving Indonesia "carte blanche" with arms and taxpayer money. Russell Feingold (D-WI) described Indonesia's recent harsh measures against conferences in the Philippines and Malaysia and the crackdown on press freedom: "I cannot think of a worse time ... to remove a provision that says American arms should not be used to kill and torture the people of East Timor." Senators Pell (D-RI) and Simon (D-IL) also spoke up for East Timor, and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) gave an impassioned plea not to reward Indonesia: "Just because (the East Timorese people) are small and because they are defenseless means we have to put up with what the Indonesians have done to them? I don't think so."

But most Senators did, at least this time. Senator Leahy and his allies are now planning further, much-needed, floor debate on East Timor when the Senate returns from recess the week of July 11, when it is expected to resume consideration of HR4226. Leahy may introduce additional legislation on East Timor then, so call or write your Senators and encourage them to support it. Urge those who voted with Leahy but kept silent -- including six Republicans -- to speak up; they could sway others if they speak up.

*** House of Representatives takes a different tack The House of Representatives passed a version of the Foreign Aid Bill on May 23, which includes a provision barring Indonesia from purchasing military training (IMET) from the United States. This closes a loophole which has been exploited by Jakarta and the Clinton Administration to continue the training after Congress banned IMET as aid in October, 1992. The Appropriations Committee reported that it was "outraged" that the Administration -- "despite its vocal embrace of human rights" -- continued to provide the same IMET training for a fee. "It was and is the intent of Congress to prohibit United States military training for Indonesia," the report said.

The House Appropriations Report supports the State Department's small arms ban but also asks the administration to "carefully consider" human rights and other concerns before selling any arms to Indonesia. Among the issues listed are whether Indonesia has complied with UN Security Council resolutions calling for military withdrawal from East Timor and self- determination for the East Timorese, and whether Indonesia is following agreements restricting U.S.-supplied weapons to self-defense. The committee report also clearly acknowledges that there was a second massacre in the days following the November 12, 1991, Dili shootings which left hundreds dead.

The IMET ban is largely the work of Committee Chair David Obey (D-WI), and the report language was developed by Representatives Obey, Tony Hall (D- OH), Nita Lowey (D-NY) and others. Although the Senate Appropriations Committee took the IMET restrictions out of the bill, we hope to have them restored when the bill goes to House-Senate Conference later this summer. Members of both houses, especially those on the two Appropriations Committees, should be encouraged to support the IMET cutoff.

Also in the House, the Banking Committee followed the lead of Representatives Joseph Kennedy and Barney Frank (both D-MA) and enacted legislation urging the World Bank and IMF to look into countries like Indonesia with excessive military involvement in their economies. The Treasury Department must report on this as it relates to Indonesia by next May.


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