295. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • President Suharto of Indonesia
  • Mr. Henry A. Kissinger

President Nixon expressed his pleasure at having the opportunity of meeting President Suharto and told President Suharto how much he had enjoyed his visit to Indonesia. President Nixon then inquired about the state of Indonesia’s economy. President Suharto replied that his economy was progressing in accordance with his approved program. The five-year plan was working well and Indonesia is taking steps to abolish the dual exchange rate and is working to adjust the oil rate. However, progress in the economic field, while encouraging, is not enough for the population which wants a speedup. Indonesia also must speed it up to destroy the remnants of the Communist Party.

President Nixon asked what the strength of the Communist Party was and whether there is a real danger or is it under control. President Suharto replied that strategically the Communist Party had been nullified. Ten percent of the old body of the hard-core members still exist even though thousands are in jail. President Nixon then inquired about the Indonesian students’ attitude on the Communists. President Suharto said that he thought the student movement was under control, pointing out that Indonesia is making students participate in development projects with good results. Students go into the villages to carry out government work and this way they do not have so much time to become ideological.

President Nixon then asked what President Suharto thought of United States problems in Indonesia. President Suharto replied that the progress in the Indonesian economy is, of course, in the first instance the result of Indonesian efforts, but foreign governments certainly have helped. Indonesia is aware that the United States has difficulties with [Page 633] Congress in getting appropriations and it appreciates that despite this the United States has increased its aid to Indonesia. In addition, foreign capital and the World Bank have been very helpful and Indonesia has appreciated U.S. assistance in rescheduling its debt.

President Nixon said we want to be of every assistance consistent with respect for Indonesia’s non-aligned status. Indonesia will continue to have U.S. support. President Nixon added, “The principle I wish to emphasize is this: we do not want to interfere in Indonesian affairs, but we want Indonesia to be strong enough so that no one else can interfere.”

President Suharto thanked the President for his expression of respect for Indonesia’s non-aligned status, which will be used to preserve peace in Asia and especially Southeast Asia. President Suharto said he was convinced that a sound economic situation produces a commitment to peace but improving economic conditions is, by itself, not enough. “Military strength is also essential. We cannot neglect military strength. In the first few years of office, I have put top priority on economic strength, but now Indonesia must give attention to military strength as well. Assistance is especially needed for the navy and air force. Given Communist strength we cannot neglect defense, especially air force and navy patrol craft.”

President Suharto stated further that the Chinese IRBM threat was now beginning to give the Chinese the capability of reaching countries even as remote as Indonesia. The military leaders in Indonesia recognize that Indonesia must move step by step and not get over-ambitious. However, Soviet infiltration in Asia and in the Indian Ocean makes it necessary to strengthen the ASW capability around Indonesia. President Nixon agreed that Indonesia’s military strength was necessary for both external and internal reasons. He added that President Suharto was correct in putting first priority on economic matters, but neutrality is meaningless unless the neutral can defend its neutrality.

President Suharto said he had already talked to Ambassador Galbraith and that the Ambassador wanted to move step by step.

It was very important from now on to know what kind of assistance the U.S. can give Indonesia. President Nixon confirmed that the U.S. would give Indonesia’s requests very sympathetic consideration, recognizing its desires are defensive. President Suharto replied it is an important part of Indonesia’s responsibility to make sure other states in the area are convinced of the seriousness of the situation in Cambodia. Indonesia received a Cambodian request for help. The limitations in Indonesia’s capabilities make it impossible to do much in the military field, but they are giving all political and moral support and attempting to line up others. Political activities have included the Djakarta Conference whose main aim is the territorial integrity [Page 634] of Cambodia, elimination of foreign troops, and reactivating of the Geneva 1954 Accords. A commission of three has been appointed to look into it, but there also exists a military difficulty. Lon Nol’s Government has only 35,000 soldiers facing larger and more experienced forces. The involvement of the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces was essential strategically to give Cambodians a chance to help themselves.

The crucial role of sanctuary operations cannot be overemphasized, President Suharto added. They will help Vietnamization. President Suharto urged President Nixon to give the equipment captured in Cambodia to the Cambodian Government, stressing that the relations between the Cambodians and the South Vietnamese was not especially good. Also, the Lon Nol Government realizes the continuing need to deal with VC and the NVA on Cambodian territory after the United States withdrawal.

Summing up, President Suharto stated, “we hope that sanctuary operations will smash the military strength of the VC and the NVA. VC and NVA. At this time, the Indonesians can give only training support, especially in anti-guerrilla warfare. Indonesia is limited in its ability to give military support because of limited resources and because of economic priorities. However, they would certainly be prepared to do so if resources would be freed.” President Nixon asked whether President Suharto considered the survival of Cambodia important for Indonesia and other countries in the area. President Suharto replied affirmatively, stressing the need for the actual neutrality of Cambodia.

President Nixon suggested that some people say the U.S. should have let Cambodia go since it would have made no difference. President Suharto replied that this attitude is reflected only by those who do not live in the area, adding, “if Cambodia falls into Communist hands, it will be an expanded base for guerrilla and infiltration activities; Vietnamization could not succeed.” President Nixon stated that the U.S. has no designs on Cambodia and will leave as soon as the sanctuaries have been destroyed. The GVN will react, however, if NVA sanctuaries are restored. The war in Vietnam, President Nixon continued, has been a very difficult war for the United States. Many want us to pull out. We have not and will not do so, not because we have designs, but because to do so would demoralize all of Southeast Asia including the Indonesian people. Therefore, it is also important that the local people speak up. President Suharto said Indonesia had this idea from the beginning, but when Indonesia proposed to Ambassador Galbraith that it send equipment for the battalions of the Cambodian army, Ambassador Galbraith doubted that the U.S. could replace this [Page 635] equipment.2 President Suharto had in mind that Indonesia’s proposal could maintain the neutral position of Indonesia and yet help Cambodia.

President Nixon said that the U.S. wanted to provide whatever help it can that will not, in turn, hurt Indonesia. Indonesia is indispensable for the future of Southeast Asia.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1024, Pres./HAK MemCon s, President/Pres. Suharto/Kissinger, May 26, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid., White House Central Files) In telegram 87970 to Djakarta, June 6, the Department sent a summary of the President’s two conversations with Suharto on May 26 and May 28. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 CAMB/KHMER)
  2. In a telephone call to President Nixon later that same day, Kissinger said that “the Ambassador’s attitude when we give military assistance was troubling.” The President responded: “They should provide assistance and we will replace it.” He added: “Let’s get going on that subject. I assume they are following up on getting some captured equipment over here.” Kissinger answered: “That is being done.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 363, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)