Ten years on ...

The letter below from 17 members of the US Senate and House of Representatives to then Prime MinisterJohn Howard is now a little over ten years old. It still rings true:

"We urge Australia to move quickly and seriously to establish a fair, permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste, based on the rule of law and respect for the sovereignty of both nations."

Come on Australia!

March 4, 2005 

The Honorable John Howard 
Office of the Australian Prime Minister 
3-5 National Circuit 
Barton, ACT 2600 
AUSTRALIA 

Dear Mr. Prime Minister, 

As members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives who have long supported independence and development for the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, we would like to share our concerns regarding the upcoming negotiations between your country and Timor-Leste on economic and territorial rights in the Timor Sea. 

We urge Australia to move quickly and seriously to establish a fair, permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste, based on the rule of law and respect for the sovereignty of both nations. Until such a settlement is reached, we would urge that any revenue from disputed areas on Timor-Leste's side of the median line but outside the Joint Petroleum Development Area be held in escrow. We hope that the temporary suspension of the development of the Greater Sunrise field, which has eased pressure from oil companies for a quick fix, will serve as a catalyst for a more thorough, deliberate and empathetic resolution of the territorial dispute. 

Although Timor-Leste has been free of Indonesian military occupation since 1999, its citizens continue to struggle against illiteracy, poverty, preventable disease and a lack of basic services. We are especially concerned by reports of scores of recent preventable deaths in Timor-Leste that have resulted from chronic food shortages and outbreaks of dengue hemorrhagic fever. An equitable sharing of oil and gas revenues would enable Timor-Leste to provide better health care and other essential services to its citizens. Such equitable sharing of revenue is not a question of charity; rather it is a matter of self-determination, sovereignty and Timor-Leste's future. 

We applaud the fact that Australia has helped Timor-Leste achieve independence and also provided significant humanitarian and reconstruction aid. However, the approximately two billion Australian dollars your government has received in revenues since 1999 from Laminaria-Corallina, fields located twice as close to Timor-Leste, is much larger than the total cost of your generous assistance. We are aware that many East Timorese believe these fields and the revenue generated -- equivalent to about four years of Timor Leste's GDP or one day of Australia's -- as well as most or all of Greater Sunrise should belong to Timor-Leste. We urge your government to participate in international legal mechanisms for arbitration of maritime boundary disputes, which should include the issue of control of resource development outside the interim Joint Petroleum Development Area. 

We admire your country's leadership in 1999 in helping to free the people of Timor-Leste from the political oppression under which they suffered for so long. We hope these maritime boundary negotiations will move fairly and expeditiously, and that your country will once again play a leading role in helping the people of Timor-Leste to be free, this time from the oppression of poverty that is preventing them from progressing as one of the world's newest democracies. 

Thank you for your consideration. 

With best regards, 

Senator Jack Reed 

Senator James M. Jeffords 

Senator Patrick J. Leahy 

Senator Edward M. Kennedy 

Senator Tom Harkin 

Senator Ron Wyden 

Rep. Nancy Pelosi 

Rep. Christopher H. Smith 

Rep. Tom Lantos 

Rep. Barney Frank 

Rep. Nita M. Lowey 

Eni F. H. Faleomavaega 

Rep. James P. McGovern 

Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy 

Rep. Fortney Pete Stark 

Rep. Lane Evans 

Rep. Jim McDermott

More on this letter can be found here.