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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18702

Mr RANDALL (2:45 PM) —I have a question for the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of steps that Australia is taking to support efforts to bring about a successful resolution to the North Korean situation?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for his question and his interest in these issues. Honourable members on this side of the House at least know only too well that this government has been in the forefront of trying to bring a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue and to the stand-off between countries in the region and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea.

Last Wednesday I called into my office the North Korean ambassador and told him that the government welcomed the six-party talks and that we see this as a real opportunity for North Korea to allow for the establishment of a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear weapons program. I explained to the ambassador that that for us was the core issue. I also went on to say that it was in North Korea's interests to abandon its nuclear program. After all, if North Korea is going to make a contribution to nuclear proliferation in North Asia it obviously opens up the risk that there could be further incentive for others to follow down that path. Naturally enough, that is something that we do not want.

One of the great achievements of the non-proliferation regime has been to keep nuclear weapons out of North-East Asia, with the exception of China. But since China obtained nuclear capability nuclear weapons have been kept out of that region—until the current impasse with North Korea. I made it clear to the ambassador that our relations with North Korea would be on hold until such a time as North Korea were prepared to move forward with constructive initiatives in order to resolve this problem.

I also discussed this issue with the United States Deputy Secretary of State, Rich Armitage, who has been here during the course of the last week. I had lunch with him last Tuesday and we focussed very much on this issue in our discussions. We agreed that the nuclear verification regime must be on the table from the outset in the six-party talks. I also did make it clear that Australia would lend expertise in the verification process.

Honourable members would be aware that the Prime Minister will be discussing this issue of the six-party talks and the future of North Korea during his visit to China. I take this opportunity to say that we very much appreciate the role that China has played in encouraging North Korea to participate in these six-party talks. In fact, it is an interesting illustration of the closeness of the Chinese and American relationship that they have been able to work together to encourage this round of talks. Let us hope for the best in those Beijing talks. Honourable members would also be aware that during his recent visits to North-East Asia—to Japan and South Korea—the Prime Minister also focussed very much on the question of North Korea.

In conclusion to my answer to the honourable member's question, over and above the extremely effective efforts of China in encouraging the six-party talks, initiatives that Australia has been involved in have been important as well. First of all, the so-called proliferation security initiative—and we hosted in Brisbane the second round of talks under that initiative—has applied additional pressure to North Korea.

Interestingly enough, the interception by Australia of the Pong Su, the North Korean ship which had been delivering heroin into Victoria—some $60 million worth at least—has been important. Assuming that this heroin originally came from North Korea or the money from it was to go to North Korea, North Korea now know that that source of revenue is being attacked internationally and they will not be able to raise money as easily through those methods as may have been the case in the past. We have played a very significant role in helping to move this process forward. It is a credit to Australia that we are such a responsible player in regional affairs.