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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, United Nations Headquarters, New York, 3 May 2005
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: May 3 2005
TITLE: Doorstop - New York - United Nations Headquarters
Mr Downer: Good afternoon. I’ve just had a 35 - 40 minute meeting with the Secretary-General and it’s been an opportunity to talk about issues like UN Reform and the situation in Iraq, and a range of Asia-Pacific issues. But I asked the Secretary-General if the United Nations could do all within its power to try to help release the Australian who has been held hostage in Iraq, Douglas Wood. The Secretary-General has undertaken to get instructions to the UN officials in Iraq to provide every possible assistance to the Australians. So we are very pleased that the United Nations Secretary-General is helping, to have the United Nations supporting us, as well as the countries which have troops in Iraq - the United States, the United Kingdom and others, and the Iraqi Government itself. The transitional government obviously is providing substantial resources to support our efforts to get Douglas Wood released. So I appreciate the response of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. We had an opportunity to talk about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and obviously it’s getting off to a pretty slow start, but we hope as the month wears on it will be able to gain a little more momentum and as time goes on a consensus will start to develop. And typically, with these types of diplomatic conferences, they start off with different delegations miles apart, but as the conference wears on towards a conclusion, everyone realises a conclusion needs to be drawn together and so, hopefully, this will be no exception, and towards the end of the month we will see some more successful progress.
I am happy to answer any questions.
Journalist: What is your country doing at home to try to ensure the release of Douglas Wood?
Mr Downer: Well, we have sent a team off to Iraq, which comprises officials from our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, some members of the Australian Federal Police, some Defence personnel. They’re on their way to Iraq now. We have an Embassy in Baghdad and we have some officials there who are working on trying to identify the people who are holding him, and where they are holding him, and try to get him released. We won’t be saying anything publicly about the operational side of what we are doing. Of course, a lot of countries have been through this experience before. We are drawing very much on the experiences of those countries. We had a contingency plan in place. We partially implemented that contingency plan last September when there was a rumour that an
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Australian had been taken hostage, which turned out to be a false rumour. But we did partially implement that contingency plan, so we are satisfied with the contingency plan we have but, of course, there’s no guarantee, not by a long shot, that we will be able to get Douglas Wood released. But we’ll do everything we can, with two exceptions. We won’t be paying a ransom, and we won’t be changing our policies. We’re not sub-contracting our foreign policy to terrorists, and we’re certainly not going to have the money of Australian taxpayers expropriated by terrorists.
Journalist: Do you have any word on his condition, or whereabouts?
Mr Downer: No, we don’t. We don’t know where he is and we don’t know anything about his condition at this stage.
Journalist: Is a key part of the contingency plan, Mr Downer, dealing through clerics?
Mr Downer: We’re not going to get into the people we’re speaking to, and I think you’d understand why. I think if we were to say too much about who we’re speaking to and what sort of networks we’re trying to use, that would be unhelpful. But suffice it to say that we’re not the first country to find ourselves in this position and I hope we’ll be the last. But you could be excused for wondering whether there might be others following us as well. There’ll be more following us, of course, if we cave in. But there are networks that we’ll deal with in Iraq. We are dealing within Iraq and hopefully they’ll be helpful.
Journalist: The Government won’t pay ransoms but are we prepared to pay some money to Islamic schools, that sort of thing, if necessary?
Mr Downer: No, because if you start making payments in exchange for the release of hostages, all you’re doing is encouraging further hostage-taking. It’s not the way to go. You know there are rumours that some groups in Iraq think that they can fund their insurgent activities by taking people hostage and getting payments. We’re certainly never going to be part of that.
Journalist: Mr Downer, with the NPT do you think that the nuclear powers like the US, China, France, are doing enough to disarm?
Mr Downer: Well I think we’ve got to try to understand how they will gradually disarm and that will be, in the main, through bilateral negotiations. I don’t think the Americans and the Russians have got enough credit for the Moscow Treaty and the commitment by both of those countries to reduce very substantially their nuclear stockpiles. This is a very good step forward and the nuclear weapons states clearly will not be instructed by a multilateral institution, for example the United Nations, to abandon their nuclear weapons. What they’ll do is they will wind back their nuclear stockpiles through bilateral negotiation. There’s no question of that. And the reason for that is that no country which is a nuclear weapons state is going to unilaterally disarm without assurances from all other nuclear weapons states they’re going to do exactly the same thing. So there’ll have to be bilateral negotiations to achieve that and it’s going to happen on an incremental basis. But let me say this, I think it’s an intellectual folly to say that measures won’t be taken to counter the proliferation of these weapons systems until the nuclear weapons states disarm, or give a time scale for complete
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nuclear disarmament because regardless of what the nuclear weapons states are going to do the world has an enormous interest. It’s a question of life and death for the world to ensure that there is no further proliferation of nuclear weapons systems and so to link the two, I think, is intellectually quite mistaken.
Journalist: Will North Korea be the main topic of your conversation with the Japanese Foreign Minister this evening?
Mr Downer: No, it won’t be the main topic of my conversation. Though we encourage North Korea to return to the Six Party Talks, it’s getting very late in the day. We’re heading now towards a year since the last round of Six Party Talks, not quite year, but it’s taken a very long time and it’s important the North Koreans understand there’s a certain degree of urgency in getting back to the table, otherwise other options, peaceful options, but other peaceful options will have to be considered.
Journalist: Mr Downer, when you head to Washington for meetings with the Bush Administration officials, what will be saying to them regarding the Australian Guantanamo Bay inmate, David Hicks?
Mr Downer: Well, the only thing I’d say about that is that we’ve had some communication with the Administration over the last year and we obviously hope that this case can be prosecuted as quickly as possible. The delay actually isn’t a delay caused by the Administration. The delay is a delay in the courts as the American courts consider applications that the Military Commission should be disbanded - or that would be the consequence anyway of these successful challenges in the courts. So it won’t be proceeding until those court cases are concluded. And that, unfortunately, is leading to a delay. We wish that wasn’t the case I must say, but bearing that in mind the Americans are satisfied that they have sufficient evidence to bring forward to support their case. That was the problem with the Habib case, that in the end they decided, for security reasons, not to bring forward the evidence in court, or in the Military Commission. But in the case of David Hicks, they appear to be very willing to bring forward a substantial amount of evidence which they’re confident will be effective.
Journalist: (inaudible) that the case will go ahead, that assurance the Australian Government is seeking?
Mr Downer: Yes, they’re given us an assurance that the case will go ahead as quickly as possible, but it’s delayed because of the civil court cases at the moment, and until they’re resolved it can’t go ahead, obviously. So that, of course, isn’t a delay of the Administration’s making, that’s a delay of the courts, if you like. So nothing can be done about that until the courts have concluded their considerations.
Journalist: Israel doesn’t have any nuclear weapons and nobody needs to talk about it?
Mr Downer: Australia?
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Mr Downer: Does Australia have nuclear weapons? Well, nobody talks about it because we don’t have them. Back in the 1960s we decided we wouldn’t go down the nuclear path and the present Government is maintaining that position.
Journalist: Mr Downer, has Australia have any particular view on the specific issue of dual-use equipment?
Mr Downer: Well, we obviously think it is very important to not just maintain but strengthen systems to exercise control over dual-use technologies and that is a very significant issue that not just, by the way, in the context of nuclear weapons, but also chemical, biological and radiological weapons as well. And there are a number of different mechanisms, as you know, which are designed to exercise some control over the trade in dual-use technologies. But having said that, we’re not opponents of the evolution of civil uses for nuclear power. We have the world’s largest known exploitable uranium reserves. Australia has about 30 or so per cent of the world’s uranium reserves and we export uranium for peaceful purposes, and we’re very much in favour of that policy. It serves us well, of course, economically. There’s no doubt that nuclear power generation has upsides and downsides, but one of the substantial upsides of nuclear power generation is that it is much more greenhouse friendly than other forms of power generation. And it’s important the world reflects on that. And that’s part of the debate at the moment, about how to deal with greenhouse. But you have to be very careful in exporting that you’re not exporting technologies which can be used, for example, in the end, the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Just exporting uranium isn’t going to do that. Enrichment reprocessing and so on, that can lead to the development of capabilities to develop nuclear weapons. We’ve got to guard very strongly against that.
Journalist: As El Baradei and others are proposing a kind of a global system where a lot of countries forego or create a moratorium on their right to create nuclear fuel in return for guarantees that perhaps some group of other countries will guarantee the supply of that fuel, do you think that this is something that the world is ready to create, a kind of global system?
Mr Downer: Well, this is particularly in relation to enriched uranium and of course one of the things we want to try to discourage is the proliferation of enrichment plants and enrichment capabilities, and this issue plays out especially in the context of Iran. I mean the Iranians claim that they have the legal right to enrich uranium. The rest of us are saying, well, in the context of today that’s a pretty provocative move and Iran could import enriched uranium from, for example, Russia, or it might be able to import enriched uranium from France, where Iran has an equity share in an enrichment capability there, an enrichment plant there I believe, and the Iranians so far have rejected that. So I think there is a lot to be said for countries which claim that they have a need for enriched uranium for peaceful purposes to import it from countries which have a very strong commitment to the non-proliferation regime and also are very transparent in terms of their access to those countries by UN inspectors, by IAEA inspectors. So I think what El Baradei says has merit.
Journalist: To follow up, some countries may feel that an outright ban on dual-use equipment is a small price to pay for achieving maximum security in the world. Do you agree with that?
Mr Downer: Well I think it’s just a question of what is technically and practically possible. I think you get into questions of defining dual-use technologies, dual-use equipment. That’s
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obviously one of the issues that is constantly being addressed and then it’s a combination of different types of dual-use technology, so one particular aspect of dual-use technology may not be such a problem, but combinations of dual-use technologies could be a problem. So I honestly think these things need to be handled in a pragmatic way. We’re in favour of peaceful use of nuclear powers. That’s part of what the non-proliferation treaty is about. We are not in favour of technologies though that facilitate the production of nuclear weapons systems. So it’s very much the heart of this debate about Iran.
Journalist: Mr Downer, just one last question. The Secretary-General this morning, in his speech, called for a better movement toward the lifting of nuclear umbrellas and nuclear alliances, so to speak, for many countries. What is Australia’s view of that? Is that practical? Can it be done quickly?
Mr Downer: Well, I can only speak for Australia. We have an alliance with the United States of America which goes back 54 years and that’s served us extraordinarily well over those years and I think it’s been a great mutual benefit to the two of our countries. We simply leave it at that. The United States is a nuclear weapons state, the United States is a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty though and we also have, of course, a very close and historic relationship with the United Kingdom, and we have five power defence arrangements with the United Kingdom in South-East Asia, with Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand. We are not at any stage considering downgrading those alliance relationships or security relationships we have with those countries. OK, thank you.