194. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Indonesia

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • Assistant Secretary William P. Bundy
  • Ambassador Marshall Green
  • Mr. Robert Komer

At the President’s request, Ambassador Green discussed current and prospective trends in Indonesia, concluding with some general recommendations as to United States policy in dealing with Indonesia. The Ambassador pointed out that, even though relations between Indonesia and the United States continue to be far from satisfactory, the abortive coup last October 1 had resulted in a crushing of the Communist Party; a great loss of international prestige for Peking, whose hand was suspected as involved; a continuing worsening of relations between Indonesia and Communist China; a blow to Sukarno’s pretensions as leader of the “new emerging forces” against the Western world; and a certain loss of prestige and standing for Sukarno among his own people. However, Sukarno remains on as President and leader of the [Page 405]revolution. He is succeeding to some extent in playing upon the divisions and fears of his opponents in regaining power. He seems bent upon getting the revolution back on leftward course. He is clever and persuasive and still seems to have extraordinary physical reserves.

According to Ambassador Green, the Army-led opposition to Sukarno, though unwilling to oppose Sukarno directly or frontally, is deeply opposed to any revival of the Communist Party and to close relations with China. The opposition would also like to see better organization and more pragmatism in government. However, fearful of civil disorders, concerned over the loyalty of their own rank and file and infected with a good deal of Sukarnoism, the Army is reluctant to oppose Sukarno directly. The military may also be reluctant to assume too much responsibility for events as long as Indonesia continues its downward course, economically and politically.

Ambassador Green felt that the deepening economics chaos, especially the crisis over foreign exchange and the tendency of various ministries to bypass the central bank, may force things to a head within the next six months or so. The situation in Indonesia is going to be extremely messy for some time to come, he added, and it is impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy the relative likelihood of a whole series of possible eventualities. What does seem to be relatively clear is that we are now in an extended transition phase between Sukarno and an unknown successor.

In this situation, the Ambassador felt that the United States should continue to maintain a low profile and preserve its options. The Ambassador said he greatly appreciated the way American officials from the President on down had avoided public statements about Indonesia. Maintaining this kind of low posture continues to be essential, since anything the United States says or does about Indonesia is subject to distortion and misinterpretation. We continue to be deeply suspect of trying to interfere in their affairs, which we of course are not doing and must not do.

The President asked whether all United States assistance to Indonesia, including assistance to the military, had been terminated. The Ambassador said it had, and he recommended that the United States not extend further assistance to Indonesia until it really begins to set its house in order. He pointed out that Sukarno is outspokenly opposed to any United States assistance to Indonesia whereas the top Indonesian military leaders have themselves secretly conveyed to us and to the Japanese that they are opposed to any assistance at this time since it would benefit Sukarno and Subandrio.

The Ambassador nevertheless felt that we should keep an open mind with regard to aid. A situation might suddenly arise where supplying Indonesia with limited quantities of grain might be desirable [Page 406]on humanitarian grounds as well as to help prevent outbreaks of food riots and disorders that could endanger foreigners in Indonesia.

If the Indonesians do begin to undertake significant measures for improving their organization and direction, then, in the Ambassador’s opinion, we should be prepared to lend a helping hand, preferably through a consortium arrangement or through international bodies like the ADB.

Summary of Action

The President said he appreciated having these observations and that he would leave it to the Ambassador to make specific recommendations as to the timing and conditions under which the United States might extend assistance to Indonesia.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL INDON–US. Secret. Drafted by Green and approved in the White House on February 23. The meeting was off the record. The time of the meeting was taken from the President’s Daily Diary. (Johnson Library)