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Timor - Foreign Relations

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation is the central Government body, responsible for the design, implementation, coordination and evaluation of the policy, set out and approved by the Council of Ministers, for the areas of international diplomacy and cooperation, consular functions and promotion and defence of the interests of the Timorese living abroad.

It is upon the Minister of State and for Foreign Affairs to plan, propose and execute the foreign policy of Timor-Leste guaranteeing its unity and coherence; To prepare draft laws and regulations for the areas under its supervision; negotiate and propose the establishment of international treaties and agreements following Timor-Leste’s external policy’s priorities; promoting Timor-Leste’s interests overseas and ensure the protection of Timorese citizens abroad; to ensure the representation of Timor-Leste in other States and International organizations and manage the network of embassies, missions, permanent and temporary representations and consular offices, according to the priorities of external policy.

The Minister of State and for Foreign Affairs is to plan and implement the preparation for the adhesion of Timor-Leste to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and ensure the country’s representation in the due meetings and activities; propose and execute the international cooperation policy, in coordination with the Ministry of Finance and other competent governmental institutions; coordinate, together with the Ministry of Finance and other government’s competent departments, Timor-Leste’s relations with the development partners; perform the assigned functions related to matters of economic diplomacy and establishing collaboration and coordination mechanisms with other Government bodies with supervision over related activity areas.

Timor-Leste joined the United Nations on September 27, 2002. It pursued membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and became a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in July 2005. Timor-Leste's foreign policy places high priority on its relationships with Indonesia; neighbors such as Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore; and friendly countries and donors such as the United States, China, the European Union, Japan, and Portugal.

On 20 May 2002, the UN handed over control to the first democratically elected government of East Timor and UNTAET gave way to the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET). UNMISET was established by UNSC Resolution 1410, initially until May 2002 but later extended to May 2003, to assist the East Timorese government with core administrative functions, and to provide interim internal and external security. The UNSC agreed in May 2004 to further extend the mandate of UNMISET for a period of six months, with a view to subsequently extending the mandate for a further and final period of six months, until May 2005.

In May 2005, the UNSC passed resolution 1599 establishing a UN Office in Timor Leste (UNOTIL) with a mandate until 20 May 2006. However, following unrest in spring 2006, the Security Council agreed to an extension of UNOTIL until 25 August 2006. On this day UNSC Resolution 1704 established a new UN mission in East Timor – UNMIT – United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor. The mandate of this mission includes bringing about a process of national reconciliation and the restoration and maintenance of public security.

In November 2001, the Timor-Leste Council of Ministers formalized their intentions by authorizing Ramos-Horta, then foreign minister, to proceed with plans to sign a Treaty of Amity and Co-operation with ASEAN and to apply for observer status immediately following independence. As an interim measure, in July 2005 ASEAN invited Timor-Leste to become a member of the ARF, the organization’s security forum. In March 2011, Timor-Leste formally applied to join ASEAN when the Minister of Foreign Affairs signed the application while visiting Indonesia. In April of 2013 ASEAN agreed to allow Timor-Leste participate as an observer in the grouping’s future meetings.

Despite all the ASEAN States having the common objective of regional security, there is a lack of mutual cooperation in matters of military defence for collective understanding of common security, accentuating the tendency to define defence with a self-sustaining capability. That may create a security dilemma for some countries, leading to an “action and reaction” arms race. The constant growth in defence expenditure associated with the objective of modernising the Armed Forces, has led the ASEAN States to adopt offensive postures.

The geographical position of Timor-Leste is a factor of crucial interest to its immediate neighbors. For Indonesia, due to its political and security situation, the process of democratisation and its economic development. Australia may, from the point of view of security, place Timor-Leste within one of its arcs of protection (chains of security), i.e. as security insurance in the context of its immediate defence. TImorese remember the bitter experiences of the people of Timor-Leste during the Second World War. Currently, the strategic pretensions of both countries remain latent and continue to be relevant to the development of Timor-Leste.

Australia led the multinational INTERFET force that restored order in East Timor in 1999, and currently leads the International Stabilisation Force (ISF), deployed at the request of the East Timorese government following the unrest of April/May 2006. Australia is also a major provider of development assistance. On 20 May 2002, Australia and East Timor signed the Timor Sea Treaty, which provides for shared government royalties from petroleum production in the Timor Sea. The Treaty entered into force in April 2003, granting 90% of government royalties from the Joint Petroleum Development Area to East Timor and 10% to Australia.

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