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USIS Washington 

14 October 1999


Text: Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Portugal McGowan on East Timor

(McGowan: U.S. and Portugal work together to aid Timorese)  (2640)
The United States and its NATO ally Portugal are working together to
provide material assistance to suffering East Timorese and to end the
humanitarian crisis in Timor, says the U.S. Ambassador to Portugal
Gerald McGowan.
"Portugal has been unstinting in its passion, its dedication, and its
resolve" on the issue of East Timor, McGowan said in an October 13
speech in Lisbon before the American Club there.
"Americans and Portuguese share the goal of seeing the international
community build its capacity to prevent and stop outbreaks of mass
killings and displacement," McGowan said. "This is one of the common
threads linking Kosovo and East Timor," the U.S. diplomat said,
relating the humanitarian crisis in Asia with the one in Europe.
America, McGowan noted, "has provided $20 million in aid (for East
Timor), including food and other supplies, as well as support for the
programs of the UN High Commission on Refugees, the World Food Program
and the International Committee of the Red Cross."
The United States is also supporting Portuguese relief efforts for
Timor, he said. "Thirty-two tons of humanitarian donations" collected
in Portugal for East Timor, McGowan said, are being loaded on a U.S.
Air Force C-5 Galaxy for delivery in Darwin, Australia, the staging
area for the international peacekeeping effort.
While aiding dispossessed Timorese was an important goal, McGowan
said, it was equally important to bring to justice those who committed
human rights abuses in East Timor.
"We must," McGowan stressed, "hold accountable those responsible for
these heinous crimes."
The U.S. official cautioned however, that East Timor's best prospect
for freedom and democracy lay with the emergence of a peaceful and
democratic Indonesia.
Following is the text of McGowan's speech, as prepared for delivery:
(begin text)
East Timor, Portugal and the U.S.
Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Gerald S. McGowan
American Club of Lisbon
October 13, 1999
Thank you, Ed.
Well, it's nice to be back again before the members of the American
Club of Lisbon. Let me reassure those of you who were here six months
ago that this is a different speech.
Let me also note that although the U.S. Ambassador typically addresses
the American Club two or three times during their mandate, there is no
'three strikes and you're out' rule. This is my third speech to the
American Club of Lisbon, and I'm nowhere near the end of my time in
It seems like it's been a long year.
The day I last spoke before the American Club -- March 24 -- was the
day NATO began military action to finally put a halt to the flagrant
human rights abuses and threats to regional stability that the
Milosevic regime in Belgrade was perpetrating in Kosovo.
Today, I want to talk about East Timor. Though there are any number of
differences between the two crises, there is also a common thread,
which I will get to later.
Portugal's response to the East Timor crisis is easily the most
impressive, moving phenomenon I have witnessed in my time as U.S.
ambassador. From the political leadership of this country, from the
media, and most of all from the Portuguese people -- who found
countless ways to express their solidarity with the people of East
Timor - the depth of concern has been extraordinary. Even knowing the
historical linkages between Portugal and East Timor, my colleagues and
I - not just here, but also in Washington -- couldn't help but be
moved by the unity and resolve of the Portuguese in this cause.
It has often been said that Portugal played a vital role for many
years in keeping the East Timor issue on the international agenda.
Now, at the crucial moment, Portugal has been unstinting in its
passion, its dedication, and its resolve.
Of course, the plight of the East Timorese, their suffering, and their
courage, has provoked sympathy throughout the world. Knowing the
recent history of the region, and the reputation of the militias for
violent intimidation, we were all inspired by the incredibly high
voter turnout on the day of the UN-sponsored consultation. The vote
for independence by the overwhelming majority of East Timorese was a
pledge of their faith in democracy.
When the pro-integration militias -- and their backers in the
Indonesian military -- unleashed a reign of terror after the results
were announced, the international community immediately began
ratcheting up the pressure on Indonesia to live up to its security
commitments in the region. For its part, the United States conveyed a
consistent -- and increasingly insistent -- message to the Indonesian
authorities at every level, coordinating with our friends and allies
around the world. When it became clear that Jakarta could not (or
would not) meet those commitments, ours was among the loudest voices
supporting the UN Secretary-General's call for Indonesia to accept an
international force to stop the killing. The U.S. is providing
airlift, communications, intelligence and logistical support to the
international force. We suspended all military-to-military
cooperation, and we are reviewing our entire assistance policy for
Although it may have seemed agonizingly slow at the time, the
international community reacted with remarkable speed. In fact, it is
unprecedented in the history of the UN that only seven days elapsed
between the announcement of the results of the consultation and
Jakarta's announcement inviting an international force into East
Timor. Australia led that force with "boots on the ground" into East
Timor only a few days later.
There are a great many challenges still ahead for East Timor. The
international force -- which is proceeding with a strong mandate and a
tough attitude -- has a hard row to hoe in establishing even basic
security throughout East Timor. The countryside remains unsafe for
those who live there. Meanwhile, the refugees in West Timor -- up to
230,000 of them -- are living in appalling conditions, and are being
terrorized by militias supported by the Indonesian military.
The militias that have withdrawn from East Timor seem intent on
launching cross-border attacks. There have been two firefights with
INTERFET troops this week, which ended fatally for a number of
militiamen. The U.S. has demanded that the Indonesian military disarm
those militias and finally make good on their promises to end their
support for these brutal forces.
There is also an enormous need for humanitarian assistance and
reconstruction aid. Estimates are that over 60% of the houses in the
western area of East Timor have been destroyed. Joining the generosity
of others in the international community, the U.S. has provided $20
million in aid, including food and other supplies, as well as support
for the programs of the UN High Commission on Refugees, the World Food
Program and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
In addition, we are also supporting Portuguese relief efforts for
Timor. As I speak, 32 tons of humanitarian donations -- collected by
Padre Milicias's High Commission for the Transition in Timor -- are
being loaded onto a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy at Portela Airport. The
plane, which the U.S. Government is providing at no charge, arrived
from Aviano Air Base in Italy earlier today. When loaded this
afternoon, it will fly on to Lajes Air Base in the Azores to take on
23 to 27 tons of U.S. military rations. The C-5 will then head to the
U.S.; and after a crew rest, will fly to Darwin, Australia.
As we act to alleviate the suffering of the Timorese, and help them
build their future, we must also hold accountable those responsible
for these heinous crimes. The U.S. was very pleased to support
Portugal's request for a special session of the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. That session passed a resolution
calling for an International Commission of Inquiry to gather facts and
establish the truth about these terrible events. This is an important
first step.
However, we have to keep in mind that this is not a simple "black and
white" situation. I have heard many thoughtful Portuguese note how
important it is not to demonize Indonesia as a nation. Let's remember
that the context is complicated. Indonesia is in the midst of a
difficult process of democratization, and continues to be vulnerable
to social unrest in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. We've seen
the fragility of power there recently when the government was forced
to rescind a new security law after students took to the streets in
We have to remember that the best prospects for East Timor as an
independent nation lie in Indonesia making a successful transition to
democracy. East Timor -- even in the best of circumstances -- will
need patience and generosity from its friends and neighbors as it
begins life as an independent nation.
I know that Portugal will be deeply involved in this process, and will
continue to stand beside Timor -- as will the U.S. The United States
will also continue to do all it can to support the human and
democratic rights of the East Timorese. Although we have done so from
the beginning, it seems that lots of folks here were not prepared to
believe it.
There were many Portuguese who criticized the United States for not
acting sooner, or more forcefully, in defense of East Timor.
Ironically, many of these were the same critics who had accused the
U.S. of taking on the role of the "world's policeman" in Kosovo. They
were now angrily blaming us for not fulfilling this role in East
Timor. Some Americans, as well as friends of the U.S. here, saw it as
a case of "damned if we did, and damned if we didn't."
The fact is that we were neither slow nor shy about pushing Indonesia
to face up to its security responsibilities. But this raises the
larger question of America's role in the world at the end of the 20th
century. Of course it's true that - whether we liked it or not -- the
United States emerged from the end of the Cold War a decade ago as the
single most powerful and influential nation in the world.
But it is also true that, as President Clinton recently reminded the
UN General Assembly, "We cannot do everything everywhere." And, as the
President pointed out: "Our response in every case can not or should
not be the same. Sometimes collective military forces are both
appropriate and feasible. Sometimes concerted economic and political
pressure, combined with diplomacy, is a better answer."
Americans and Portuguese share the goal of seeing the international
community build its capacity to prevent and stop outbreaks of mass
killings and displacement. This is one of the common threads linking
Kosovo and East Timor. NATO's decision to act in Kosovo was guided by
the clear, repeated consensus of UN Security Council resolutions
accusing Serb forces of committing atrocities against the Kosovar
Albanians. The U.S. first warned Milosevic it would respond militarily
to aggression in Kosovo eight years ago, in 1991. And this spring --
after more than a year of agonizing, frustrating negotiations with
Belgrade -- NATO finally took action to vindicate the principles and
purposes of the UN Charter in the defense of human rights.
In the case of East Timor, the UN and the international community
sponsored a long-delayed act of self-determination in a difficult and
complex situation. Then - with unprecedented speed and focus - the UN
reacted forcefully to oppose the violence of those who would try to
reverse it. The United States and Portugal have taken leading roles in
these situations - Kosovo and Timor -- because we are nations that
recognize our fundamental responsibility to defend human rights and
democratic values.
I must admit I was surprised to hear a few prominent voices here
actually call into question the depth, sincerity and value of our
partnership. There were some who publicly called for Portuguese NATO
troops to be pulled out of Kosovo, and others who insisted that
Portugal "retaliate" against the U.S. by telling the Americans to
"pack their bags" and get out of Lajes.
Now, would it really make sense for Portugal to renege on its
principled commitments to peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia? Or to
cancel its longstanding agreement with the U.S. for use of the Lajes
Portugal's role in Kosovo is an integral part of its place in the NATO
Alliance of 19 nations. As for Lajes, inviting an American presence
there is one of Portugal's most visible contributions to Euro-Atlantic
security. It is a tangible manifestation of its commitment to the
defense of our common values.
It is also a fact that the U.S. base at Lajes is the largest employer
in the Azores, and puts over $50 million a year into the Azorean
economy. Both of our nations see the scientific, agricultural and
educational cooperation that has flowed from the 1995 Lajes Agreement
as an enormous benefit to Portuguese and Americans.
So neither Lajes nor Kosovo represents a "favor" that Portugal is
doing for the U.S. I'm glad that cooler heads prevailed, so that the
clear, urgent moral force of Portugal's call for the defense of the
Timorese was heard -- in the United States and around the world --
unclouded by tortured logic or unreasoning emotion.
I've learned some things -- I think we all have -- from the Timor
crisis. Following Kosovo, Timor has confirmed the key role that the
defense of human rights and democratic principles has come to play in
both U.S. and Portuguese foreign policy. The speed and complexity of
the way the crisis unfolded also drove home to me how connected the
world really is now.
I'm sure some of you saw, or heard about, the horrendously misleading
New York Times article that suggested the U.S. government cared less
about human rights in East Timor than it did about the Indonesian
economy. I read that on the Internet at six o'clock in the morning.
But the first Portuguese diplomat who called me that morning had read
it at four am - after he had read the early filings of the Portuguese
newspapers at three am, and the Jakarta Post at two a.m.
My point is not that diplomats are insomniacs - it's that the impact
of public opinion, and today's instantaneous global communications,
won't let us just ignore the problem in the hope that it will somehow
resolve itself. Like global financial markets, diplomacy is now a
24-hour-a-day business. The good news, of course, is that technology
also gives us new opportunities to let you know what's going on -- so
let me add that if it's three a.m. or noon, and you want to know what
the United States government is doing about Timor, or anything else,
please visit my Embassy's web site at
With so much work in Timor unfinished, we do not yet have great cause
for celebration. But we should applaud the fact that the people of
East Timor were finally able to determine their own political future,
and the fact that the international community has clearly shown its
readiness to support Timor's will to be independent.
The mercy mission of the C-5 is only the latest signal to the people
of East Timor that Portugal and the United States will continue to
stand with them as they rebuild their lives and their country. We --
Americans and Portuguese -- should take pride in our commitment to
work together to alleviate the tragedy in Timor, and to support the
values and the institutions we need to prevent such outrages in the
(end text)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State)

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