199. Telegram From the Embassy in Indonesia to the Department of State 1

2536. 1. Minister Adam Malik, who seemed to be in higher spirits than I’ve ever seen him before, told me at rendezvous last night that situation is explosive, with army prepared to move at any moment using 22 army battalions loyal to Generals Nasution and Soeharto in and around Djakarta area.

2. I said I understood Sukarno was planning to dismiss Soeharto. Was this true? He said President was planning to dismiss either or both Soeharto and Adjie; and Malik hoped Sukarno would do so because this would be precisely the action which would incite armed forces to move physically against Presidium and bring about long-needed changes.

3. I remarked that on past occasions when army seemed united in its resolve, Sukarno was able to recapture initiative by calling in all the military brass including regional commanders and putting on one of his performances which seemed to leave military commanders uncertain as to how each other stood and therefore they wavered at the crucial hour. Sukarno has called for such meeting this weekend; will history repeat itself?

4. Malik replied that he did not think it would. All the Panglimas are behind Soeharto only awaiting his order. However, army will not take initial step against Sukarno/Subandrio to avoid chances of being the aggressor, but army action will be in the form of a counter-action. Thus students and laborers will continue their demonstrations until [Page 415] Sukarno/Subandrio provoked into taking some action which will justify army counter-moves. This could be touched off by a dismissal of Soeharto or Adjie or Sarwo Edhie or Mokoginta or by Tjakrabirawa troops shooting students. An example of how close Sukarno is to triggering army move was when he and Subandrio inspected ransacked Foreign Ministry March 9. Sukarno so angry that he ordered Tjakrabirawa troops to shoot at students.

5. Malik continued that even young air force officers are now organized into teams supporting anti-Presidium movement and have plans to sabotage any aircraft engaged in escape of leftist cabinet ministers from Djakarta.

6. Malik said that by far the most important new element in situation since last we met a month ago was student movement against Subandrio and other leftist cabinet ministers. These students more powerful than all parties put together and command much wider sympathy and support. In fact, all previous anti-government movements here have lacked this kind of popular support. Student demonstrators include sons and daughters from most prominent families including those who are in pro-Sukarno camp and they naturally exert considerable influence on their parents. Moreover, soldiers and policemen most reluctant to shoot at student demonstrators. As example, he cited dilemma of one policeman charged with protection of Foreign Office on March 8. When he pointed his gun at a student, he discovered this was son of his superior officer. Policeman so shocked he disappeared from scene. Same has happened to members of Tjakrabirawa battalion, a number of whom have deserted.

7. Additionally, trade unions are getting into the act. Most of trade unions will be supporting students actively by joining in demonstrations and by strikes beginning this week.

8. I asked Malik whether dismissal of Nasution had been serious setback for anti-Subandrio forces. He said not at all; Nasution, who continued to command nationwide respect, could now operate more effectively behind scenes than from office in Defense Ministry. Nasution and Soeharto remained close but it was better to have Soeharto the front man. I inquired about position of General Machmud (Kodam V Commander in charge of Djakarta area). Malik said he was completely with Soeharto.

9. Finally and most importantly, I asked Malik about general security situation as it affected Americans and American property. I pointed out that Subandrio reaction to attacks by students on his Foreign Office and against him personally seemed almost certain to result in his trying to retaliate as well as divert attention. He could not target the army or the students, so it was quite probable he would incite his goon squads against our Embassy. We’ve already had two examples of that in past [Page 416]two weeks.2 I also had some rather disturbing reports from unevaluated sources that Sukarno has indicated in his anger that he would do to the Americans what he had done to the British several years ago. This meant danger to our residences as well as the Chancery. What did Malik think of that?

10. Malik replied that undoubtedly Subandrio will attempt anti-US actions. However, this will receive no support from overwhelming elements here, and the army will definitely step in to protect the Americans. Malik felt there was no need to evacuate members of American community from Djakarta but suggested that they remain out of sight as much as possible, particularly during next week or so when things likely to be hyper-tense.

11. I told Malik once again that I hoped for a new relationship between our governments, one that was productive and helpful from Indonesia’s viewpoint, and that meanwhile it was absolutely vital that nothing occur, such as anti-American actions, which would gravely, if not permanently, injure our relations and eliminate future possibilities for fruitful friendship and cooperation. He said he fully understood my point. He felt the same way. He said he was more assured than ever that things would work out the way we both wanted. Certainly his mood reflected this assurance.3

12. I asked Malik to feel free to share the burden of our conversation with Nasution and Soeharto. He said he would do so.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 INDON. Secret; Immediate. Repeated to Taipei for Bundy. Passed to the White House.
  2. On February 23 and March 8 small, well-organized groups of leftists attacked the U.S. Embassy. There were no injuries and no attackers penetrated the Embassy building. (Telegram 2509 from Djakarta, March 8; ibid.)
  3. In telegram 2564 from Djakarta, March 12, 0150Z, the Embassy reported that a reliable source indicated that the Army was in the process of arresting 20 cabinet ministers. (Ibid.)