102. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom 1

4596. For the Ambassador. Please deliver following message from the President to Prime Minister Wilson:

“Dear Prime Minister:

I am writing to share some thoughts about the worsening situation in Indonesia, and to invite your comment on possibilities that have occurred to me here. As you will judge from the contents of this letter, the thoughts expressed have been very closely held within my government, and I am sure the same will be true in yours.

Sukarno’s withdrawal from the UN does not seem to us too serious in itself, and indeed may get him into serious difficulties during the year as he attempts to exert influence through the proposed Afro-Asian Conference. It is already clear that it has, if anything, worsened his standing in this circle.

Nonetheless, the recent events in Indonesia, both military and political, clearly point to the possibility of increased military action against Malaysia and of a further swing to the left in the internal [Page 217]political balance. Even though these latter tendencies may have been checked for the moment, the power of the PKI seems to be growing steadily, whether because Sukarno actually encourages this or because he no longer has full control. Even if his health should hold up, the prospect seems to be that the left will gain steadily. If he should die or become incapacitated, the left is now in a strong position to move to take over. In short, Indonesia seems to be moving rapidly toward more aggressive policies externally and toward communist domination at home.

As you know, we have never been hopeful that negotiations or discussions with Sukarno would produce lasting solutions and get him back to work solving his serious economic problems and bringing the left under control. Nonetheless, I feel strongly that we cannot let Indonesia continue along its present path without exhausting every possible measure to turn it from catastrophe. Even if we are unsuccessful, we would have made every last effort we could make to prevent it.

Two possibilities have now occurred to me that might just help. One would be to take advantage of Sukarno’s now-repeated statement that he would accept the findings of any four-power Afro-Asian Conciliation Commission. This has been stated in terms of findings of such a Commission with respect to the sentiments of the inhabitants of Sarawak and Sabah. It carried also the implication that he would accept a call by such a Commission for the cessation of Indonesian aggressive activities—infiltration in Borneo and the sporadic raids now being conducted against Malaya itself. I do not think we can now expect the Philippines to play a useful role in resuming the negotiating track that broke off in Tokyo last June. The Thai seem equally disillusioned. However, the Japanese have retained some modest influence in Djakarta and might be prepared to undertake a quiet initiative in this direction. During my recent talks with Sato,2 it was clear that they were quite willing to do whatever might be helpful, although I most specifically did not urge that they take on this particular job at the moment. I wonder now whether this may not be worth a try.

I see all the difficulties, and of course the Tunku is quite right in insisting that actions are needed rather than words on the Indonesian side. But it seems to me that there is just enough hope in the recent indications to warrant another try.

My second idea is a much more far-reaching one, and I am sure you will not misunderstand my purpose in putting it forward for your reaction. Plainly, it would require the closest consultation with you and careful preparations with the Tunku.

[Page 218]

Briefly, it has long been my judgment that Sukarno set great store by his personal relationship with President Kennedy. The rapport which appears to have existed between the two men did not change the basic direction of Sukarno’s policy, but was certainly of value as a point of contact with the Indonesian President and may have had some moderating effect on his actions. Sukarno’s personal vanity is maddening; but it may be a possible handle that might be turned to use. I have never met Sukarno and there is the possibility that we could use an official visit to the United States as a tactic to appeal to this vanity and at the same time provide an opportunity to divert him from his current path. The invitation in itself would confront him with a dilemma. His vanity and an acute sense of Indonesia’s importance in the world would argue for acceptance of the invitation. The PKI would probably oppose the visit with every resource at its disposal. We might, therefore, drive a small wedge between Sukarno and the PKI, and his acceptance of the invitation would be from the outset some indication of his receptivity to the counsels of moderation. I have already told Sukarno, through Ambassador Jones, that I would be prepared to receive him—as I would any other foreign Chief of State in a like situation—if he should come to New York in connection with a reopening ceremony at the Indonesian pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. Such an occasion would not arise before late April or May in any event, however, and I do not believe it could well serve as the occasion for really tough and serious discussions.

Accordingly, I have given thought to the possibility that I might invite him to visit the United States and to see me in the fairly near future, on the basis of what we would call an official visit, with some ceremony but with the greatest possible stress on direct discussions.

Again, I am well aware of the difficulties surrounding such a proposal. We would have to take every possible measure to be sure that it was not understood as an attempt by the US to obtain a compromise of the Malaysian dispute at the expense of the legitimate interests of Malaysia. Rather, we would make clear that our objective was quite simple—to have the opportunity for personal discussion and to stress our well-known view that it is in Sukarno’s and Indonesia’s own interest to call off confrontation of Malaysia and to turn the attention of Indonesia to the solution of its tremendous economic and political problem. You can well see that it would be essential from my own standpoint to make this position entirely clear to Congress and to our own public opinion, which would undoubtedly have great initial difficulty in understanding the purpose of the invitation.

There are many other arguments which I need not review with you in detail.

I re-emphasize my awareness of all the considerations arguing against this proposal, and recognize that it may prove as fruitless as [Page 219]other past efforts have been to change the course of Sukarno’s policies. Nonetheless, Sukarno is today Indonesia, and I believe we should explore every possible avenue to reach him and influence him as a man.

I should be most grateful for your comments and counsel.


Lyndon B. Johnson”
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 INDON. Top Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Bundy, cleared with the White House, and approved by Rusk.
  2. Eisaku Sato, Prime Minister of Japan.