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Memorandum of Conversation Between President Richard Nixon and President Suharto, May 26, 1970

Suharto: A Declassified
Documentary Obit

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 242

Edited by Brad Simpson

Posted - January 28, 2008

For more information contact:
Brad Simpson - 609/751-8206
bsimpson@princeton.edu


Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968

By Bradley R. Simpson


The Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project


In the news

"US propped up Suharto 'despite rights abuses'"
by P. Parameswaran, Agence France Press
Jakarta Post (PDF)
January 29, 2008

"US propped up Suharto despite rights abuses: documents"
by P. Parameswaran
Agence France Press
January 29, 2008

"Released papers implicate Suharto"
By Stephen Fitzpatrick
The Australian
February 1, 2008

"Longtime Indonesian Strongman Suharto Dies at 86"
National Public Radio
January 27, 2008

"Observer: Out in the open"
Comment & Analysis
Financial Times
January 30, 2008


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Washington, DC, January 28, 2008 - As Indonesia buries the ex-dictator Suharto, who died Sunday at the age of 86, the National Security Archive today posted a selection of declassified U.S. documents detailing his record of repression and corruption, and the long-standing U.S. support for his regime.

The documents include transcripts of meetings with Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, as well as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Vice-President Walter Mondale, then Vice-President George H. W. Bush, and former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke.

Additional documents detail U.S. perceptions of Suharto from the earliest years of his violent rule, including the 1969 annexation of West Papua, the 1975 invasion of East Timor, and the so-called “Mysterious Killings” of 1983-1984.

“In death Suharto has escaped justice both in Indonesia and East Timor,” said Brad Simpson, who directs the Archive's Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project. “But these declassified documents, detailing the long record of U.S. support for one of the twentieth century’s most brutal and corrupt men, will contribute to our understanding both of Suharto’s rule and of the U.S. support which helped make it possible."

Most of the documents posted today have been declassified as a result of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the Archive, in addition to documents unearthed in the National Archives (NARA) and Presidential libraries.

In the coming weeks the Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project will be posting additional documents concerning the events leading up to Suharto’s downfall in May 1998.

 


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Initial Report on Suharto

National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) 55-68, December 31, 1968
Source: Department of State, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 165, NIE 55-68. Secret
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/frus/johnsonlb/xxvi/4436.htm

This National Intelligence Estimate prepared by the CIA at the end of 1968 offers a positive portrait of Suharto and the New Order regime he had assembled following his ouster of Sukarno in March 1966 and consolidation of control in the intervening months. Just 18 months after the bloody massacres involving the murder of between 500,000 and one million alleged supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party, the NIE states that “the Suharto government provides Indonesia with a relatively moderate leadership.” The estimate reports, “There is no force in Indonesia today that can effectively challenge the army's position, notwithstanding the fact that the Suharto government uses a fairly light hand in wielding the instruments of power. Over the next three to five years, it is unlikely that any threat to the internal security of Indonesia will develop that the military cannot contain; the army--presumably led by Suharto--will almost certainly retain control of the government during this period.”


Suharto's Meetings With U.S. Officials

Indonesia: Background - The West Irian Question, July 10, 1969

Subject: Djakarta Visit: Your Meetings with President Suharto, July 18, 1969

National security adviser Henry Kissinger briefs President Nixon on his upcoming visit to Indonesia and likely conversations with Indonesian President Suharto. Kissinger argues that there is no U.S. interest in getting involved in the issue of West Irian and that its people will choose integration with Indonesia. In Nixon's talking points, Kissinger urges that the President refrain from raising the issue except to note U.S. sympathy with Indonesia's concerns.

Department of State, SECRET Memorandum from Henry Kissinger for the President, Subject: Your Meeting with President Suharto of Indonesia, May 26, 1970
Source: Richard M. Nixon Papers, Subject Numeric Files, 1970-1973, Box 2272

Suharto made his first visit as head of state to the U.S. in May 1970. The trip came amidst a major crackdown on political parties in Indonesia aimed at insuring the dominance of the Joint Secretariat of Functional Groups (GOLKAR) and the Army in parliamentary elections scheduled for 1971, as well as detailed revelations of pervasive corruption among government and military officials including smuggling, bribery, kickbacks and nepotism. Privately the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta warned that the corruption and authoritarianism of the New Order would progressively undermine its rule even as it eliminated or co-opted its opponents. Publicly, however, the White House fairly gushed over the state of relations with Jakarta and the Suharto regime’s performance, viewing the trip as a chance to strengthen its already cozy ties with the Indonesian dictator (who must have been surprised to learn that he presided over one of the “largest democratic countries in the world”). “There are no issues between the U.S. and Indonesia,” Henry Kissinger wrote the President approvingly, “and relations are excellent.” Suharto was offering to help support the U.S.-backed Lon Nol government in Cambodia, the regime continued to welcome American investors and pursue a “pragmatic” five year development plan, and Indonesia was increasingly identifying with U.S. regional goals as the Administration began its inexorable drawdown in South Vietnam. “What Suharto has done and is doing accords perfectly with your concept of Asian responsibilities under the Nixon Doctrine,” the national security advisor observed.

Memorandum of Conversation, President Suharto of Indonesia, The President, Dr. Kissinger, May 26, 1970
Source: Richard M. Nixon Papers, Subject Numeric Files, 1970-1973, Box 2272

In his meeting with President Nixon, Suharto frankly admits to having “nullified the strength” of the Indonesian Communist Party, an apparent reference to the mass killings of alleged PKI members, and states that “tens of thousands” of its members “have been interrogated and placed in detention.” President Nixon largely confines himself to questions and supportive statements concerning U.S. support for the Suharto regime. Over the course of Suharto’s two-day visit, the White House reassures Indonesian officials of their continued commitment to Southeast Asia and pledges to increase military aid to $18 million to enable Indonesia to purchase 15,000 M-16 rifles to replace the AK-47s it is covertly sending to Cambodia to assist the Lon Nol government which recently overthrew the government of Prince Sihanouk.

Memorandum of Conversation between President Ford, President Suharto, Dr. Kissinger, et al., July 5, 1975
Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, National Security Adviser Memoranda of Conversations, Box 13, July 5, 1965 - Ford, Kissinger, Indonesian President Suharto


This document records a conversation between Suharto and Ford at Camp David on July 5, 1975, five months before the invasion of East Timor. Speaking only a few months after the collapse of the Thieu regime in South Vietnam, the two presidents shared a tour d'horizon of East Asian political issues, U.S. military assistance to Indonesia, international investment, and Portuguese decolonization. Suharto brought up the question of Portuguese decolonization in East Timor proclaiming his support for “self-determination” but also dismissing independence as unviable: “So the only way is to integrate [East Timor] into Indonesia.” Ford gives no response.

U.S. Embassy Jakarta Telegram 1579 to Secretary State, December 6, 1975 [Text of Ford-Kissinger-Suharto Discussion]
Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, Kissinger-Scowcroft Temporary Parallel File, Box A3, Country File, Far East-Indonesia, State Department Telegrams 4/1/75-9/22/76

On the eve of Indonesia’s full-scale invasion of East Timor, President Ford and Secretary Kissinger stopped in Jakarta en route from China where they had just met with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. For more than a year the U.S. had known that Indonesia was planning to forcibly annex East Timor, having followed intelligence reports of armed attacks by Indonesian forces for nearly two months. Thus, Ford or Kissinger could not have been too surprised when, in the middle of a discussion of guerrilla movements in Thailand and Malaysia, Suharto suddenly brought up East Timor. “We want your understanding,” Suharto stated, “if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action.”

Ford and Kissinger took great pains to assure Suharto that they would not oppose the invasion. Ford was unambiguous: “We will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problem and the intentions you have.” Kissinger did indeed stress that “the use of US-made arms could create problems,” but then added that, “It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self defense or is a foreign operation.” Thus, Kissinger’s concern was not about whether U.S. arms would be used offensively—and hence illegally—but whether the act would actually be interpreted as such—a process he clearly intended to manipulate. In any case, Kissinger added: “It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly.”

U.S. Embassy Telegram 4890 from Jakarta to Secretary of State, "Meeting with Suharto," April 18, 1977
Source: Freedom of Information Act request

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke’s visit to Jakarta in April 1977 and his lengthy meeting with President Suharto was the first by a high-ranking Carter Administration official.  The visit occurred during the run-up to tightly-controlled Presidential and parliamentary elections in which hundreds of Suharto opponents had been arrested and critical newspapers shuttered.  It thus represented, in the words of the U.S. Embassy, an “unusual opportunity” to advance concerns about human rights and democracy more generally - had that been Holbrooke’s intention.  In his meeting with Suharto, however, the Assistant Secretary offered no criticism of Indonesia’s human rights record while “acknowledging efforts President Suharto appeared to be making to resolve Indonesian problems,” especially on  East Timor, where he “applauded” the President’s judgment in allowing Congressional members to visit the territory but remained mute on reports of ongoing atrocities.  Suharto responded that Indonesia did “not seek to hide anything” in East Timor – at a time when journalists and relief organizations were banned and visitors allowed only under military escort.

Memorandum for the President from the Vice President, "Visit to the Pacific," April 26, 1978
Source: NSA Staff Materials, Far East Files, Box 7, Carter Library

From May 9 to May 10, 1978,Vice President Walter Mondale visited Indonesia as part of a larger regional visit and the Carter Administration's initiative to "deepen relations" with the Suharto regime. This Memo for President Carter requested his approval for Mondale's policy goals for the trip, including the expedited delivery of sixteen A-4 fighter jets to Indonesia, which was then preparing for a massive campaign of aerial bombardment of East Timor in an effort to crush armed resistance to its occupation of the territory. Mondale's briefing memo makes no mention of East Timor.

Telegram 12521 from Document: Telegram 6076 from Jakarta to State, "Summary of Vice President's Meeting with Suharto," May 10, 1978
Source: Freedom of Information Act request

In a May 10 meeting with Indonesian President Suharto, Mondale noted that Indonesia's 1977 release of thousands of political detainees had "helped create a favorable climate of opinion in the Congress" for expanded American arms sales. He suggested to Suharto that releasing prisoners more regularly would further improve public opinion and deflect criticism - a suggestion the regime later implemented. The Vice President likewise noted the two nations' "mutual concerns regarding East Timor," in particular "how to handle public relations aspects of the problem." As with the problem of political detainees, Mondale suggested that allowing humanitarian groups such as Catholic Relief Services access to East Timor would not only help refugees in the area (overwhelmingly generated by Indonesian military operations) but "have a beneficial impact on U.S. public opinion."

Issues and Objectives for the Suharto Visit, Undated

Memo from Kenneth Dam for the President, Subject: Your Meeting with Suharto
, October 1, 1982


Summary of the President's Plenary Session with President Suharto of the Republic of Indonesia, October 12, 1982

Source: Freedom of Information Act request

In October 1982 Suharto came to the U.S. on an official state visit, the highest honor accorded visiting dignitaries.  The briefing papers and summary of Suharto’s plenary session with President Reagan are most notable for what they do not contain – a single mention of human rights in Indonesia or East Timor.  The visit offers striking reminder of the degree to which the Reagan Administration abandoned any high level concern about human rights in Indonesia through the 1980s.

Telegram 14397 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to State Department, Subject: [Deleted] views on East Timor developments, September 9, 1983

Telegram 15303 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to State Department, Subject: Current Developments in East Timor
, September 23, 1983

Source: Freedom of Information Act request

In August 1983 East Timorese guerrillas attacked Indonesian military forces at the airport in Dili, killing 18 soldiers. In response to the attack, and as part of a larger military offensive involving 10,000-12,000 troops, Indonesian soldiers carried out several large massacres: of 200-300 civilians near the town of Viqueque, and at least 500 civilians in villages near Mount Bibileu. These two lengthy cables describe those operations and the breakdown of the ceasefire which preceded it, and fits a persistent pattern lasting from 1975 to 1999 in which U.S. Embassy officials expressed skepticism over the scale or even the existence of Indonesian atrocities in East Timor. In the second cable, the embassy officer repeats the claim, apparently from an Indonesian source (whose identity is excised), of several hundred killed near Viqueque.

Department of State Briefing Paper – US-Indonesian Security Relations

Telegram 08201 from American Embassy Jakarta to State Department, Vice-President's Meeting with Soeharto, May 12, 1984
Source: Freedom of Information Act request

In May, 1984 Vice President George H. W. Bush visited Indonesia as part of a longer trip that included stops in Japan and South Asia. The briefing papers prepared for Vice President Bush highlight the continued focus on commercial and security relations over considerations of human rights.  In 1984 the U.S. provided $45 million in credits for foreign military sales (FMS) and $2.5 million in International Military and Educational Training (IMET), “our second largest IMET program worldwide.”  Vice-President Bush’s political scene setter notes that “political activity in Indonesia is tightly controlled,” with “no organized political activity” between national elections and opposition forces “dispirited and incapable for the foreseeable future of mounting a direct challenge to his power.”

Vice President Bush’s visit came on the heels of a major Indonesian military offensive in East Timor in which hundreds of civilians were massacred and in the midst of a period of severe repression in Indonesia punctuated by “a government-organized campaign of summary killings of alleged violent criminals” known as the “mysterious killings,” which began in late 1982 and continued through 1984.  The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta estimated that the government had summarily executed about 4,000 people, with continued killings reported.

In his meeting with Suharto, however, Bush, like Reagan and previous high-ranking U.S. officials, offered nothing but praise for the dictator, assuring him that “our relations with Indonesia are most significant and that we derived great satisfaction from our relations with Jakarta.”  As with Suharto’s 1982 visit to the U.S., there was no mention of human rights, and discussion focused largely on U.S. relations with the Soviet Union and China.


Suharto and Corruption

Memo from David Gunning from Peter Flanning, Weyerhauser Company – Indonesia Problems, December 5, 1972
Source: Nixon White House Central Files, Subject File, Country File Indonesia, Box 37

U.S. officials were aware from the start of the deeply entrenched corruption of the Suharto regime.  This memorandum outlines the sort of protection rackets the Suharto regime offered to foreign investors as the cost of doing business in Indonesia.  It details an arrangement that the Weyerhaeuser Company (one of the world’s largest timber companies) made with the Army for a timber concession in Borneo, offering the Army “a 35% interest in the concession at no cost in order to insure government cooperation.”   Weyerhaeuser officials express concern that “this arrangement has not provided the protection which was expected” and that “disconnected actions by disparate army officers and civil servants” in addition to the Army’s rake-off are threatening the company’s profitable operations.

Embassy Jakarta Telegram 12910 to Secretary of State, Indonesian Miracle Beclouded: Proposal for Action at IGGI, December 14, 1972
Source: Lot File 76D446, Box 12, National Archives

This lengthy telegram describes the mounting concern with corruption voiced by the Intergovernmental Group on Indonesia (IGGI), a donor consortium established in 1967 to coordinate foreign aid to Indonesia. It describes “increased, though fragmentary information of widespread and growing corruption” and “the consensus of all informed observers that scale is large and growing, that it involves highest echelons in government, and that this in turn is causing it to spread and deepen in all branches of social and economic life.”

Memo from Carleton Brower to the Ambassador, What Happened While You Were Away, August 10, 1973
Source: Lot File 76D446, Box 12, National Archives

Memorandum from Ted Heavner to Mr. Hummel, Suharto's Involvement in Timber Concessions, September 7, 1973
Source: Lot File 76D446, Box 12, National Archives

These two memos describe Suharto’s personal intervention in a timber concession in Kalimantan being sought after by the International Paper Company. The head of IPC stated that “the matter was of the most extreme sensitivity; that Suharto would brook no interference.” The second memo describes how, after complex notions involving IPC and the Indonesian government, “Suharto and his people were talking over the entire concession for their own profit.”

In unusually blunt language, the memo describes Suharto’s purported plan: “three dummy corporations, one headed by his half-brother, one by his son, and one by the notorious Bob Hasan group, will reportedly exploit the concession. The memos seem to show that Suharto and his colleagues in this enterprise are totally uninterested in proper timber management or development of a wood processing industry and are intending only to rape the concession for maximum short term profit.” [Note: The memos summarized by these documents were not included in the lot file box at the U.S. National Archives.]

 

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