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Thursday, 13 February 2003
Page: 11835


Mr BRUCE SCOTT (2:27 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of last night's International Atomic Energy Agency decision concerning North Korea and the next steps to be taken by the United Nations Security Council? Is the minister aware of any alternative approaches?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First, I thank the honourable member for Maranoa for asking me a question on North Korea. That is the second question this week I have been asked on the issue of North Korea. From recollection, I have been asked two other questions on North Korea in the life of this parliament. I may be wrong, it may be three; it may be one; I think it is two. I also note that the opposition spokesman for foreign affairs has said that the issue of North Korea is much more immediate and serious than the issue of Iraq. But the opposition have not asked me questions on North Korea all year; I do not know quite why that is.

The International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors has made a decision to report North Korea's failure to comply with its nuclear nonproliferation obligations to the security council, and I welcome that. As an influential member of the board, Australia was clearly deeply involved in preparing the ground for this decision. The resolution expressed deep concern over North Korea's actions and called upon the administration in Pyongyang to remedy urgently its noncompliance. This does send a very strong message that North Korea's failure to comply with its nonproliferation obligations will be met by firm international resolve. It registers more generally that noncompliance with safeguard obligations is an extremely serious matter demanding the highest international attention.

We look to the Security Council as another avenue for seeking a peaceful diplomatic solution. Other bilateral and multilateral efforts will continue to move in parallel. I explained to the House yesterday, in answer to an earlier question, the active role that Australia has been playing in trying to take forward the process of ensuring that North Korea draws back from the nuclear program that it has. The Security Council has a full range of options open to it, fairly obviously. We expect the immediate priority would be for the Security Council to register its concerns about North Korea's actions, calling upon it to reverse its nonproliferation treaty withdrawal and to comply with its safeguards obligations. We do not expect, for example, that sanctions will be part of any initial response that comes from the Security Council.

I think this development clearly puts substantial increased pressure on the administration in Pyongyang, on North Korea. We are aware that North Korea says that ultimately it wants to have bilateral negotiations with the United States. We said to the United States administration that we think it is not unreasonable for the United States to talk with the North Koreans and see what can be achieved. So we hope that in the fullness of time, in an appropriate circumstance and under appropriate conditions, such bilateral discussions may take place.