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Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Page: 9

Dr SOUTHCOTT (2:39 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. How is Australia supporting progress in the North Korean six-party talks and what lessons can be learned from achievements to date?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First, can I thank the honourable member for Boothby for his question and of course for the great interest he has in these issues. I have said before that we in the Australian government welcome the 13 February agreement, which gives a timetable for the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program. I also would like to take the opportunity of welcoming the announcement that the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, intends to visit Pyongyang in the next week or so—the week commencing 12 March, I think it is—and this visit is at the invitation of the North Korean government. So this is a good sign that the North Korean government is moving towards the implementation of the agreement that was announced on 13 February.

As the House knows, we have worked very closely with the American administration but also with the Chinese, the South Koreans and the Japanese in relation to the whole issue of North Korea’s nuclear tests and its nuclear program. The agreement that has been reached provides for international assistance to North Korea in return for specific progress towards abandoning its nuclear weapons.

With that all in mind, I have decided to send an Australian delegation to Pyongyang, almost certainly in the week beginning 5 March. This will be led by a very senior official in my department and will include a number of officials. They will urge North Korea, first of all, to fulfil its obligations under the agreement that has been reached and, in particular, to dismantle permanently its nuclear programs. The delegation will indicate that such actions will allow Australia and many other countries in the broader international community to provide the assistance to North Korea that the people, the ordinary people, of North Korea so desperately need. It will also be an opportunity to lay down some markers for the strengthening of a bilateral relationship between Australia and North Korea. The delegation will be able also to check the progress of multilateral aid projects to which we currently contribute. They are basically projects that are associated with food.

I think the delegation should make a useful contribution, particularly bearing in mind the close alliance relationship between Australia and the United States. The delegation will be able to make a useful contribution to sending some messages to the North Korean regime about their obligations; what the broader international community expect of them, not just the other five parties in the six-party talks, and what benefits North Korea can get out of fulfilling their obligations under the agreement that was announced on 13 February.