Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Downer warns N Korea faces deeper isolation o -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Downer warns N Korea faces deeper isolation over nuclear claims

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: Back now to North Korea, which publicly announced for the first time today that it has
nuclear weapons, and it also announced that it's pulling out of nuclear negotiations. The
announcements came in a lengthy and vitriolic statement from the regime's Foreign Ministry. The
statement, which could have been hatched in a Maoist self-criticism session, accuses Washington of
following the logic of gangsters; of wicked and brazen-faced double dealing; of plot breeding and
deception. The chief accusation is that the US is paying lip-service to negotiations while planning
regime change in Pyongyang. This could hardly have come at a worse time, with the US administration
struggling to keep a lid on Iran's nuclear ambitions. So as we said earlier, what can the US and
its allies do when their enemies go nuclear? Well, joining me from his home in Adelaide is the
Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer. Thanks for joining us.

ALEXANDER DOWNER (FOREIGN MINISTER): It's a pleasure.

TONY JONES: How seriously are you and your advisers taking this statement?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, we're taking the statement seriously. There have been statements like this
made before, perhaps not quite as serious as this statement, but in 2003, there was a somewhat
similar statement made. But I think our early response to this statement would be simply that the
North Koreans would be best advised to resume the six-party talks, go back to the table and
negotiate a successful settlement. If they do abandon their nuclear programs, there'll obviously be
security guarantees provided by the other five parties, including the United States, and there'll
also be very substantial economic opportunities opening up for North Korea. So the sooner they get
back to those six-party talks, the better, and abandon this sort of rhetoric.

TONY JONES: What are your analysts saying, looking at the detailed text of what is a very long
statement? Is this brinkmanship, do you think, that can be stepped back from, or is it, as it says,
an end to negotiations?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: They're of course not entirely sure at this stage, but their judgment is that
we'll just have to wait and see. It's quite possible that this is a statement made in the lead-up
to another round of six-party talks, a statement made to strengthen their negotiating position, and
we hope that that's all it is, because it's very important they do return to those six-party talks;
that's by far the best way to progress to resolve this matter. But we will have to wait and see.

TONY JONES: It certainly doesn't sound like that from the rhetoric, though, does it? I'm wondering:
how do you get back from the brink here?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, the country that has the greatest leverage over North Korea isn't the
United States; it's China, and I know the Chinese are being very active now in trying to get the
North Koreans to resume the six-party talks. I'm sure that, in the next few weeks, encouraged no
doubt by this rather extreme statement, the Chinese will redouble their efforts to get those talks
going. I don't want to put all of the onus on the shoulders of the Chinese. The Japanese, the South
Koreans, the Russians as well as the Americans all have a role to play, but in particular, the
Chinese will have to do what they can, because they're the country which has leverage by virtue of
the fact that approximately 50 per cent of all North Korea's aid comes from China and about 80 per
cent of North Korea's energy needs come from China. China has been very responsible, very
supportive of the six-party process, and I know that they'll be doing their part to try to get
those talks going again.

TONY JONES: Will you be attempting to speak to officials in Beijing to try and make sure that
that's what happens with urgency from Australia's point of view?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Yes, we have a constant flow of dialogue with the Chinese on obviously many
things, but on this matter. Barely an occasion goes by when we have senior discussions with the
Chinese that we don't raise this issue. When I was last in China myself, it was a substantial part
of my discussions with the Chinese Foreign Minister. So we, as a country which has a very clear and
obvious interest in North Korea abandoning its nuclear program, do what we can to encourage the
Chinese, but they don't need an enormous amount of encouragement. I don't think China, being
adjacent to North Korea, wants North Korea to become a nuclear weapons state, and of course,
there's an issue beyond that, and that is that it would be a significant contribution to nuclear
proliferation. There'll be some people - whether they would ever get their way is another question,
but there will be some people in South Korea and in Japan who would think, "Well, if North Korea
goes nuclear, there's an argument for us doing the same thing." So that's one of the reasons why
this issue of North Korea is so important - not just because of the danger of the weapons systems
themselves but also because of the risk of contributing to proliferation.

TONY JONES: Mr Downer, you say "if". As you said earlier, in 2003 the North Koreans privately
conveyed to American negotiators that they do have a nuclear arsenal. Now they're saying it
publicly; in fact, they're boasting of it. Don't you accept that what they're saying is true?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Our assessment is that they may have two or three - conceivably more, but two or
three nuclear warheads, but nobody's absolutely sure about that. Their rhetoric, historically, I
think, as viewers would know, is very strong and often very exaggerated rhetoric, so you can't
always take everything they say on face value, and certainly looking at this statement, it'd be
premature just today, in response to it, to say that we take everything in the statement on face
value. It may very well be a prelude to a further negotiation, and we hope that that's what it is:
toughening up their position, reinforcing their negotiating clout.

TONY JONES: What on earth, though, can the United States and its allies do if this is indeed
Pyongyang doing what it says it's doing, which is facing down the United States, saying, "We have
nuclear weapons. You don't have a nuclear option against us because we have weapons. We are
prepared to defend ourselves with them."

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, one of the things we do say to the North Koreans is: nobody's planning to
use nuclear weapons against North Korea. The United States hasn't used nuclear weapons against
anyone since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and they certainly have no intention of doing so now, and
North Korea would be much better advised, through the six-party talks, to get the security
guarantee they say they want from the United States, but also from the other four countries which
are a party to those six-party talks. They could have a collective security guarantee, however that
would be formulated - and that would be a matter for negotiation - which would give their country a
much greater degree of security and, added to that, economic benefits. I've been there twice
myself. I've seen the dire state North Korea's economy is in, and it's just a dramatic contrast
with the economy of South Korea. So that is the logical path for them to follow, and we'd encourage
them to go down that path.

TONY JONES: Okay. Mr Downer, we can't let you go without a comment on a much lighter story, you'd
have to say. Your reaction to the announcement that Prince Charles is to marry Camilla Parker
Bowles?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I'm very happy for Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. I hope they'll be
very happy in their marriage, and naturally enough, I'm very pleased that they love each other
enough to get married. I think it's a nice and positive development.

TONY JONES: There are some serious questions, though, for Australia and for the rest of the
Commonwealth, and it appears, from reporting in Britain today, that there may have to be a debate
in Britain and indeed in the Commonwealth about her actual status. Do you think there will be a
debate in this country?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I don't think so. I don't think that would be so much a big issue for us. I mean,
in terms of our association here, we will possibly see Prince Charles become the king in the normal
course of events, and if that were to happen, that would be the constitutional link with Australia.
Camilla Parker Bowles's being married to Prince Charles - her position would be, from our point of
view, as his wife, she'd have no constitutional role in Australia.

TONY JONES: Indeed, she's not even going to be called the queen if Charles does become king; she's
going to the Duchess of Cornwall. But do you expect any debate, and indeed, do you think, in the
light of Charles's impending visit to Australia, this may in fact ignite a new debate here about
whether Australia should become - or should depart from the monarchy and become itself a republic?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Ah, well, you know, there will always be people who write letters to the editor
about that sort of thing, but I would say this: that who Prince Charles wants to marry is
absolutely a matter for Prince Charles, and we're happy for him if he's in love with her and wishes
to marry her, and what more could we ask than that? I don't think it has any bearing whatsoever on
the Australian constitution. It doesn't have any bearing on our constitution, and so, you know, I
don't think that it will ignite a debate, no. I don't think Camilla Parker Bowles is going to be a
significant feature in the republican debate here in Australia.

TONY JONES: So you think the British analysts who are predicting a debate throughout the
Commonwealth, and including Australia, are just wrong about this, do you?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Oh, I'm sure that's, generally speaking, wrong. I can speak for my own
electorate. If you go to the pubs and clubs of my electorate or into the shopping centres, I don't
think it's an issue that's going to be in the forefront of people's minds in terms of the impact of
Camilla on Australia. I think most reasonable people would be happy for them both as a couple, and
the constitutional arrangements in Australia don't have any bearing on the wife of a future king.

TONY JONES: Alright. Alexander Downer, we'll have to leave it there. We thank you for taking the
time to come and join us on Lateline tonight.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It's a pleasure.