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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Los Angles, United States: 7 May 2005: Hostage situation in Iraqi.

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DATE: May 7 2005

TITLE: Doorstop LA - Hostage Situation

MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWNER: I think it's clear all Australians will be very upset to see this video. And I've taken the opportunity to ring Douglas Wood's wife - and she lives in California - and I've had a talk with her about it, understandably she's very upset, but she's a strong woman and she's determined.

As far as the Government is concerned we have our emergency response team on the ground in Baghdad and we're doing everything we possibly can to try to resolve the problem. But you know, it's obviously tough work, but we're not giving up, we're continuing to work with great determination to try to resolve this and to get Douglas Wood released.

But you know, people will be upset to see the video, but it does demonstrate he's alive. What we're really worried about, quite apart from him being released, which is our objective, is that his health is not good - has had heart problems, significant heart problems. We're worried about him not having access to appropriate medication.

And once more we ask the people who are holding him hostage to release Douglas Wood and to allow him to get on with his life. He's been helping the people of Iraq. He supports an independent and a strong Iraq. He wants to see all of that, the problems of Iraq, resolved.

But above all, we think he should be released. He's not a political person, he doesn't play any part in politics. He's just a contractor who's been there helping the people of Iraq.

QUESTION: It's quite obvious that they've now released these new pictures of him - he has a black eye, a shaved head, looks very dishevelled - to put pressure on the Australian Government to at least make some allowances for them. Could that be the case?

DOWNER: Well look, let me just say about the video that at least it does demonstrate he's still alive. We've been optimistic, as I've been saying in the last 24 hours, that he is still alive.

And I don't want to get into a commentary on what the motives of the hostage takers may be because clearly it's very important to be cautious about overanalysing them publicly. We can

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all do that once hopefully he's released and we can have a discussion and a debate about that. But I don't think that's something we should be doing at the moment.

QUESTION: What's your reaction when you see one of your citizens in this situation and you're pretty much powerless to do anything?

DOWNER: Well we're not conceding that we're powerless; we're doing everything we can. I think it just, it reminds us that we have to do everything we can to try to get him released and that we are doing that. We have deployed a good team of people; they're working day and night over there in Baghdad to try to get him out, and we appreciate the good work they're doing. So we obviously hope they can be successful.

We take some comfort from the fact that Douglas Wood is clearly still alive, but no, it's a very difficult situation. I think Australians on the one hand will feel you know, very disturbed to look at the video, but on the other hand they'll be right behind us in trying to get him out.

QUESTION: Is that team that you've got on the ground, have they made progress in the last 24 hours would you say?

DOWNER: Well I don't want to go into the operation obviously. They're working at it, they're working at it. Lots of things they're doing. We can perhaps talk about that once hopefully he's released, we can talk about what they've done so people know what they've done, but we can't talk about it now.

QUESTION: Would you be able to say just a little bit more about how his wife is coping with the situation, how she's feeling?

DOWNER: Well you know, you can understand she's upset, but she's a strong woman and she's a determined woman, and I was very touched by her strength of character. And she's got a lot of friends there in her community looking after her and supporting her and that's obviously very important.

But it's very hard for her. Look, we all understand that, poor thing, and our hearts go out to her. And I know all Australian hearts go out to her at this difficult time.

I hope the people who are holding Douglas Wood hostage, I hope their hearts will go out to her, and to his child and to his brothers, to his family. To think about somebody as a human being in that way - very important in these situations to understand that full human dimension. He's not an object, he's a human being with a loving wife, with a child, with brothers who are desperately fond of him and they all want to see him again.

QUESTION: Now his family apparently have made another video which they want released. Do you think this will have any effect on the hostage takers over there?

DOWNER: I hope so. I mean - you know, I hope the hostage takers will see these videos and see these reports through Al Jazeera. I've made an appeal through Al Jazeera myself and Douglas Wood's brothers have done that and they've now issued a further statement.

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And I hope that the hostage takers will understand the human dimension of all of this - the fact that Douglas does have a family there that loves him and wants him back - and they'll take that into account.

QUESTION: I presume you had to tell his wife again that Australia can't negotiate with these terrorists, so how does she react to that sort of news? Did she try to...

DOWNER: She knows our position of course, and our position is a position the Australian Government's had for a long time, and she understands that, and as does the Wood family in general. But they also understand that we're doing everything we can. We've got a really good team there and they're working very hard at it.

QUESTION: So just to reiterate, obviously the Australian Government cannot respond to meet the demands, even after this new video?

DOWNER: Well you know our position is well known; we are not changing that. But we are determined to try to get him released. But our position of course has been well known for a long time.

QUESTION: And again, just to reiterate, what are the effects if you do give in to demands of people like this?

DOWNER: Well of course our concern is that then it as a problem will just roll on, and we don't want to see that happen. But we're really going to focus on the task at hand here and see if we can get him out.

QUESTION: Do you think as time marches on the situation gets worse, his chances diminish?

DOWNER: Well what I'm worried about is not just what the hostage takers could do, that's pretty obvious what they could do, but I'm worried about his health anyway.

I mean here is a man who has a serious heart ailment, who takes a lot of medication, and we're not sure he has his medication. And so his health will be deteriorating and we're worried about that. And so I hope the hostage takers will take that into consideration as well, that his health is poor.

So you know, that's obviously a particular consideration in this case.

QUESTION: Are you optimistic that you'll be able to - that he will be free?

DOWNER: Well we're working at it, you know, I think I could only leave you with the phrase that we're determined to try to succeed, and as I told Douglas Wood's wife, we are absolutely, absolutely determined. We're doing everything we possibly can, within reason. And so I hope we can be successful.

QUESTION: And do you think the plea from the Sunni sheikh will make any difference?

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DOWNER: Well I’m just not going to get into that. I mean of course in the end outcomes will tell us what worked and what didn't work.

We’ve just made a change to our travel advisory for Iraq. Obviously we continue to suggest to people not to visit Iraq, and for people who feel their security is threatened there to leave the country. But we've also said that there could be - not that there will be - but there could be copycat kidnappings, and so people should be especially careful, that they could be vulnerable to copycat hostage taking incidents, so they need to make sure they take that into account.

QUESTION: Do you think this man was targeted specifically because he was Australian or just because he was a white man?

DOWNER: Don't know. We don't know the answer to that. It's hard to tell. We may never know. But it's very hard to answer that question.

QUESTION: But you believe Australians could possibly be targeted?

DOWNER: Could be, could be yeah, of course, yep.