Jose Ramos-Horta, Foreign Minister of East Timor, was the keynote speaker at the Flagship Conference: International Perspectives on Peace and Reconciliation at University of Melbourne in Australia.
Mr. Ramos-Horta has been often criticized by the left wing and the peace movements for what definitely appeared as endorsing US-led invasion to Iraq. But in Melbourne, on July 14, he decided to defend his position, claiming that his statements were simply misquoted. His commentary for The New York Times appeared in The International Herald Tribune under the title â€œCase For Warâ€ â€“ the title against which he immediately protested.
Asked by a member of the audience if he believes that there are any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he answered, laughing: â€œIf their intelligence there is as bad as the one on which their travel warnings are based for East Timor, there is no wonder why they didnâ€™t find anything!â€
In his speech at the University, Ramos-Horta delivered powerful speech defending the United Nations, asking rhetoric questions like: â€œWho do you want to be an arbiter of the world: Donald Rumsfeld or Kofi Anan?â€
He offered 3 step-reforms of the present world order, that would consist of the fundamental UN reforms (â€œwhy does small France has a veto power while enormous India doesnâ€™tâ€), end of the agricultural subsidies (â€œdeveloped world spends 50 billion dollars on foreign aid, from which big chunk goes to paying â€˜consultantsâ€™, while EU and the US spend 300 billion dollars to support their farmers, so they can â€˜sell cheap food to usâ€™â€) and writing off the debt to LDCs.
Ramos-Horta strictly denied and ridiculed rumors that there is a deal to build US military bases in East Timor: â€œMaybe someone else signed it, but I donâ€™t know about it. I am Foreign Minister of East Timor, but I donâ€™t know anything about signing such an agreement! Hearing this, I feel like a cheated wife.â€
Asked about the International Court of Justice, Ramos-Horta responded: â€œAn issue of the exemption for the United States in the International Court of Justice will be decided by East Timorese parliament in the following weeks.â€
Mr. Ramos-Horta also criticized Australian PM and FM for pushing the Australian agenda in the bitter dispute over the underwater gas fields â€œGreat Sunriseâ€, which may be potentially worth 20 to 30 billion dollars.
Q: Your statements supporting the US-led invasion of Iraq shocked and angered millions of people all over the world. Literally overnight you lost support of many of those who saw you for decades as important international figure.
A: First of all, let me say that my article in The New York Times was totally misinterpreted. If anyone would bother to read it from the beginning to the end, he would see that it says that the US as unchallenged superpower should allow more time for inspectors on the ground in Iraq to do their job and for the Secretary General of the United Nations to try to negotiate departure of Saddam Hussein. What I said exactly and what was used against me was: â€œSometimes in the history the use of force is necessary.â€ But the peace movements and those who were opposing the war reacted as if there were no thousands of victims of Iraqi dictatorship, as if the US initiated the entire situation.
Q: But there were also thousands, millions of victims of the US foreign policy all over the world. Taken this under consideration, did the US have any moral mandate to intervene in the country like Iraq?
A: It had as much moral mandate as any other country in the world. Greater mandate would maybe have countries like Iceland or Finland, but they didnâ€™t bother to intervene. I often give the following example: Was it right when Vietnam intervened in Cambodia in 1979? It acted against the will of the countries of the entire region. It acted against the will of the US. But it saved millions of Cambodians from the regime of Pol Pot â€“ from Khmer Rouge.â€ But I kept repeating that the conflict should be resolved by the peaceful means. And I was shocked by the misunderstanding. I guess that people were just expecting me to say that I simply oppose the war.
Q: Here in Australia you were asked if the East Timorese model could be used as a reconciliatory model for Iraq.
A: No, it could not be a model. East Timor is 1000 times smaller than Iraq, in terms of the territory and population. My country is monolithic â€“ around 98% are Catholics. Iraq is different. East Timor has strong, charismatic leaders like President Xanana Gusmao. In Iraq, there is no leader like him.
Q: Can the reconciliation process in East Timor be still seen as a success?
A: Yes, definitely. Again, I have to stress how important extraordinary leadership of President Gusmao is. In my country, many people are still extremely angry at what happened to them in the past, during the Indonesian occupation. But we have been able to convince them that there will be no revenge. And they listened. Simultaneously, a deep partnership with the United Nations and international NGOs has been developed.
(Andre Vltchek is an American writer and journalist, chief editor of political magazine WCN (www.worldconfrontationnow.com) He currently resides in Japan and Vietnam and can be reached at [email protected] )