DOOR Newsletter on East Timor
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we have to go to the International
Court of Justice, the United Nations General Assembly to request a
non-binding adviser opinion on the whole issue [of oil and gas in the
Timor Sea]. ... [if
Australia refuses to be bound by it] it would be very damaging to
Australia's international credibility, it would really weaken
Australian stance regionally, it would be seen by the rest of the world
as such a rich, powerful country bullying the poorest country, one of
the poorest countries in the world." Jose
Ramos Horta, Foreign Minister of East Timor
ABC PM - Australia,
East Timor relations at historic low: Horta
PM - Monday, 29 November , 2004 18:25:56
Reporter: Mark Colvin
MARK COLVIN: East Timor's
Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, says the relationship between his
country and Australia seems to be at its lowest point since the
liberation in 1999.
In a speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney he said he was deeply
disillusioned with Australia's behaviour in negotiations over the oil
and gas in the Timor Gap, that's the stretch of sea between Timor and
Australia, and he used words like "bullying" and "blackmail" to
describe Australia's actions.
Jose Ramos Horta said his last hope, because all else had failed, was
an appeal to the Prime Minister John Howard whom he still regarded as a
friend of East Timor.
Barring that, he said he'd go to the UN General Assembly and ask for
the matter to be referred to the International Court of Justice.
Australia has already refused to have the matter referred to the ICJ
All this comes after both sides felt the talks showed promise. Back in
August it was expected that an agreement would be signed by Christmas.
After his speech today, I asked Jose Ramos Horta what had gone wrong.
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: What
happened was that in Dili, in the last round of the talks only a few
weeks ago, the Australian side basically imposed on us an ultimatum. Mr
Doug Chester, the senior official from Foreign Affairs, DFAT, that led
the Australian delegation, simply said take it or leave it by 5pm, 27
MARK COLVIN: Take what or leave
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: And that is
accept a permanent boundary on Australia's terms, meaning that East
Timor would accept Australia claims of continental shelf as the limit
of its boundary, which comes two thirds closer to our shores than a
normal median line between the two countries, and Australia in turn
would offer a sort of financial compensation of $3-billion over a
period of 30 years much less than what they had offered in the
previous round of talks in Darwin, which was something like US
MARK COLVIN: So, what did you
say to this take-it-or-leave-it offer?
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Of course, we
cannot accept ultimatums. We cannot accept blackmail. We are poor but
we have a sense of honour, of dignity, of our rights.
MARK COLVIN: I believe you're
also angry about an instance of what you think was bad faith in terms
of Australia speaking to the press, when you thought there was an
agreement not to say anything.
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Yes, it was
Mr Doug Chester himself, who had insisted on the rule that there'll be
no talks to the press. He insisted on it, our side agreed. Within
minutes of him leaving the room, he was already doing the spin of his
delegation's views of why things went wrong.
And my prime minister was furious. He… at the time, he immediately
acted, expressed his shock, dismay at such a flagrant disregard for an
agreement that had been reached just a few minutes earlier.
MARK COLVIN: So, the end result
of this, the upshot, is that you are thoroughly disillusioned and don't
believe that the two countries will be able to reach a reasonable
agreement, you said. Where are we now?
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Well, I'm
still hopeful, confident in Prime Minister John Howard. We are forever
grateful to Australia for what it has done since '99. It was Australia
leadership that enabled Interfet to take place, and Prime Minister John
Howard has shown to be a friend of East Timor. I hope that he takes
personal leadership on this issue. We might still salvage; if not we
have to part ways and fight for our rights the best we can. We will…
MARK COLVIN: But where is
there to go, if Australia has refused to go to the International Court
of Justice and has refused independent mediation, where do you go next?
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Well, we have
to go to the International Court of Justice, the United Nations General
Assembly to request a non-binding adviser opinion on the whole issue.
MARK COLVIN: So, even if
Australia doesn't want to go to international mediation, you can force
some sort of mediation?
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Yes, it
cannot, Australia cannot prevent the United Nations General Assembly
from requesting the International Court of Justice to provide an
adviser opinion, non-binding, on the whole story of the Timor Sea.
MARK COLVIN: But it's
non-binding, then you could still be back in the same situation, if
Australia refuses to be bound by it.
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Oil
companies would be then reluctant to invest in the Timor Sea, so…
MARK COLVIN: But that could be
cutting your own throat.
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: It's
possible, it's possible, but Australia itself, Australia's interests
would be undermined in the whole great fanfare about the development of
the Northern Territory would be put on hold.
It would not serve anyone's interests, and it would be very damaging to
our relationship, it would be very damaging to Australia's
international credibility, it would really weaken Australian stance
regionally, it would be seen by the rest of the world as such a rich,
powerful country bullying the poorest country, one of the poorest
countries in the world.
MARK COLVIN: Is this the lowest
point in diplomatic relations between our two countries since
liberation in 1999?
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: It seems so,
but obviously, you know, I'm not alarmed by it. I still have great
respect and affection for Australia, respect for John Howard as Prime
Minister of this country. I believe Alexander Downer is a friend, a
personal friend, and I hope that we stay in talking terms in the next
few days or weeks so that we find a consensus leading us to a way out
of this imbroglio.
MARK COLVIN: You said, "we are
poor and in no hurry to become rich, we are patient and proud". Do you
really mean that, or is it just diplomatic brinkmanship?
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Oh, I mean,
it. You know, obviously if we cannot get a fair, equitable, just
resolution, a deal that we can, in our conscience, explain to our
people, our parliament, well we have it do without the immediate
resources. We can wait a few more years.
We waited 24 years before we became free and independent. So, it will
be Australia that might have to leave with a bad conscience. They are
the ones who have to look at the mirror every day and figure out
whether what they are doing is the right thing or not.
MARK COLVIN: Jose Ramos Horta
speaking to me a little earlier. And we invited the Foreign Minister
Alexander Downer onto the program to respond to Mr Horta's concerns,
but he declined our offer. A spokesman for Mr Downer said the ball was
now in East Timor's court, and that Australia would welcome any
creative solution that East Timor may have.
He said the Minister would discuss the issue further with Jose Ramos
Horta at the South West Pacific dialogue later this week.
Jose Ramos Horta is Foreign
Minister of East Timor
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DOOR Newsletter on East Timor
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