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Washington May Face Rights Test in U.S. Firm's Indonesian Operations

October 30, 1995|JIM MANN

But Paul S. Murphy, executive vice president and director of Freeport-McMoran's Indonesian subsidiary, urged in a letter that the funds be stopped because WALHI has been organizing protests against the company and has filed a lawsuit against it. Murphy also complained that WALHI "has openly affiliated itself with radical international [groups] such as Earth First!, Friends of the Earth, Global Response and Greenpeace."

This effort apparently failed. An AID spokesman said the U.S. agency has decided to give the Indonesian environmental group another $250,000 for work over the next two years.

Meanwhile, Freeport-McMoran officials have been making the rounds in Washington, trying to limit the impact of the upheavals in Irian Jaya.

The company has some well-connected friends to help out. In particular, one of the members of the board of Freeport-McMoran is former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. The company pays Kissinger Associates a retainer of $200,000 a year in consulting fees. In addition, a company spokesman said, Freeport-McMoran pays Kissinger himself additional money, totaling $400,000 in 1994, for consulting and advisory services.

Kissinger has called the State Department on behalf of Freeport-McMoran's chairman, James R. Moffett, as Moffett has sought appointments in Washington. Asked about this, a company spokesman replied: "We do not comment on meetings we may or may not have had with government officials."

One reason Freeport-McMoran officials seem to be worried is that the company gets some help from the federal government and does not want to lose it. The Overseas Private Investment Corp., the federal agency that provides risk insurance to American companies doing business abroad, insures Freeport-McMoran's Indonesian operations for $100 million, according to an OPIC spokesman.

The federal law for OPIC calls on the agency to take into account "respect for human rights" in its insurance programs. The law also says OPIC should refuse to reinsure a project that "will pose a major or unreasonable environmental, health or safety hazard."

On Thursday night, Indonesian President Suharto stopped in Washington for a dinner in his honor to benefit CARE, the relief organization. Moffett hosted the dinner.

The next morning, Suharto called on President Clinton at the White House. A press release said that the talks focused on lofty subjects, including the Asian economy. But a senior Administration official acknowledged afterward that Suharto urged Clinton to make sure OPIC insurance would be preserved for Freeport-McMoran's Indonesian mining operations.

Clinton told the Indonesian leader that the White House would not get involved and would leave the Freeport-McMoran decision up to OPIC. "This is something that is going to be decided on the merits," the Administration official said.

One hopes so. But in Washington, the Other Asia is a long way away, and private lobbying is everywhere. OPIC's decision will be an interesting test.

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