Crikey broke the news last
Monday that the Timor talks were another Downer – the Foreign
Minister’s proclamation of the success of the talks had been rejected
outright by East Timor’s Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

told the Portuguese news agency Lusa: “There is no accord and, if there
is one, in the terms announced it would be totally against my
orientations. And, thus, void.” But most of Australia’s media chose to
ignore this. As did East Timor’s Foreign Minster Ramos Horta, who took
a week to come out and acknowledge his PM’s statement.

Downer and DFAT kept spinning; they let it be known that the deal
included East Timor receiving 50% of Sunrise, and that Alkatiri had
until Wednesday 18 May to accept the deal. The detail was supposed to
have come from “reliable” sources, and was even leaked to East Timor’s
solidarity groups such as the Timor Justice Campaign in Melbourne.

readers would be aware that the aim of the leaks and spin was to put
pressure on Alkatiri and East Timor’s parliament to ratify the “deal” –
the detail of which has not been officially released. The deal involved
East Timor receiving a one-off additional payment capped at US$3.5
billion from the revenue of the Greater Sunrise gas field. In return,
East Timor was to put on hold boundary negotiations for between 50 and
99 years; an arrangement known as the Hong Kong solution.

was part of that game plan and he was supported by the East Timorese
negotiators Peter Galbraith and Jose Texeira. In his 29 April press
release, Horta noted that some comments made by parties outside this
process did not reflect the approach being taken by both governments.
Horta was referring to Australian businessman Ian Melrose who received
a phone call just before the 27 April Dili round of talks telling him
“the Timor Sea talks between East Timor and Australia were getting on
well and they were close to a deal,” and “he was advised not to proceed
with his controversial oil advertisements because it would not be in
the best interest of the talks.”

Horta was still on the blower late last week when he briefed the SMH’s
Lindsay Murdoch in Dili. In his article on Saturday, Murdoch said:
“Most Timorese don’t know it yet, but the government in Dili and
Australia have struck a basic deal on Greater Sunrise that will reap
East Timor US$5 billion – a deal that will underpin the country’s
economic future.”

Unfortunately for Horta, he failed to
predict that president Xanana Gusmao, East Timor’s popular leader, was
going to be interviewed by Sam Lam of ABC Radio National’s Asia Pacific
Program the previous day. Gusmao told Lam: “Well, I will give this
issue to the government, because it is the government dealing with
this. But as president, I should say that in the constitution I have to
be the guarantee of our sovereignty.”

This is not the first time
Gusmao has talked about East Timor’s sovereignty. He also told Lam:
“What makes us so sad is that we are losing one million a day because
we lost our rights regarding to the Laminaria, Buffalo and Corallina.
And Australia said no, it is ours, forget this.”

Gusmao was not
only rejecting the Sunrise deal – he has also raised the issues of the
revenue loss from Laminaria/Corallina and East Timor’s sovereignty.
Horta had little choice but to concede. He is in no position to take on
Alkatiri and Gusmao at the same time, even with the support of his good
mate Lord Downer. So on Saturday he admitted that reports of East Timor
considering an Australian proposal to suspend negotiations on the
maritime boundary for 50 years were wrong.

“This is absolutely
pure erroneous speculation by the media,” he told ABC Radio, “So far no
figures have been discussed and to put it in such a way that we agreed
to shelve sovereignty for a particular price-tag, that is absolutely