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Joint Press Conference with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer MP, Minister for Defence Senator Robert Hill, and the Nato Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.



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TRANSCRIPT

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS ALEXANDER DOWNER MP MINISTER FOR DEFENCE SENATOR ROBERT HILL NATO SECRETARY GENERAL, JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 1 April 2005

TITLE: Joint Press Conference

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Can I just begin very briefly by welcoming the NATO Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and say how delighted Senator Hill and I are to welcome him here to Australia today. The Secretary-General will be meeting the Prime Minister this afternoon as well.

We’ve had good contacts with NATO over recent times and, as I said to the Secretary-General in my meeting with him, as we move more into the process of dealing with security threats on a global scale rather than just on a localised or regional scale, then countries like Australia, as well as Japan and South Korea in the East Asian region, have much more work to do with NATO, we have much more in common.

NATO is active in Afghanistan, NATO is active in Iraq in a training process and more broadly our two countries are working together to - well country and organisation are - two of us - are working together on the issue of counter-terrorism. And I’m glad to say that we’ve agreed that there’ll be some exchanges of intelligence on counter-terrorism between Australia and NATO and that will take forward yet another step our relationship on those issues.

This is the first ever visit to Australia by a Secretary-General of NATO and, Jaap, you’re enormously welcome here, we’re delighted that you’ve been able to come and I hope that your visit proves to be very fruitful.

I’ll ask Senator Hill to say a few words and then over to you.

SENATOR ROBERT HILL: Well I join with Alex in welcoming the Secretary-General. We believe, with the changes of emphasis of NATO, that we’re likely to be working more closely with NATO in the future and if we look at what’s happening in Iraq at the moment it already illustrates that that is - that that likelihood will come to be the case.

We therefore see it in our interests to get closer to NATO in a very practical way. We therefore decided to put a defence attaché into Brussels, he’ll be attached to NATO to help improve our communications. We’ve also signed an agreement to enable information to be shared more easily.

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A lot of this information is very practical stuff such as military - details of military equipment that needs NATO specifications because then it is likely to be interoperable from our perspective, and as we find ourselves working more often than not in coalitions that is a helpful way in contributing towards interoperability and the confidence that equipment will be interoperable.

Training is another example where we can share experiences and with NATO now taking up a training role in Iraq, Australia in it’s third rotation of training in Iraq, it’s another practical example where if we communicate more effectively, liaise more closely together, it can be mutually beneficial.

So welcome, Secretary-General, I’m looking forward to Australia working more closely with NATO in the future and I believe that’ll be very much in Australia’s best interests.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you very much, Minister Downer, Senator Hill. Indeed it’s the first ever visit by a NATO Secretary-General to Australia. If I would have to answer the question why I think, I would phrase it like the added value Australia brings to NATO and I think the added value NATO can bring to Australia.

And both ministers have already commented on the global aspects of the threats we’re facing. We’re facing terrorism everywhere and anywhere, and unfortunately and tragically Australia has been the victim of horrible acts of terrorism. We’re all facing - the NATO Alliance, Australia and this region alike - the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, we’re all faced with the consequences of fragile and failing states. In other words the added value is there and we should build on the added value.

What is it? Indeed, as both ministers have already said, it is important that we exchange as much information as we can, also of a classified nature, that’s the reason that we signed this security agreement. It is important that we touch base on - that I touch base on behalf of NATO on what’s happening in this region which is geographically far away but nevertheless given the challenges I’ve mentioned very relevant to NATO. So Minister Downer, Senator Hill gave me their analysis of the situation in the region.

And finally of course NATO, short of being a global policeman because NATO is not a global policeman, NATO is not the Euro-centric organisation it has been over the decades any more. NATO has taken responsibility for security and stability in Afghanistan; Australia was an important participant in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; NATO has taken responsibility for an important training mission in Iraq. Australia’s role in Iraq cannot be underestimated.

Australia has embarked upon training, and here again I think it’s very relevant that we exchange ideas, that we exchange information and that we see how we can work together on what is clearly the first and foremost priority of the Iraqi Government which is training.

So if NATO does this and if Australia does this I mean it’s good to discuss it and good that we find forms of cooperation, I say again, in a country where Australia has made and is still making an important contribution in many aspects.

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So in brief it is, I think, for me - for NATO - very useful that I can make this trip, thanking my Australian hosts for their hospitality, and I think we can increase the cooperation, and we can increase the added value NATO and Australia have for each other. You know, I’ve come from New Zealand and I’ll go to Japan after having seen the Prime Minister - Prime Minister Howard - this afternoon.

Japan also playing a role for instance as a very important donor country for Afghanistan and, as you know, also playing a role in Iraq by having sent its self-defence forces to the Al-Muthanna Province where, may I end like this, the Australian forces are now going to replace my countrymen, the Dutch, who have done a job there in that province.

Let me leave it here. It’s great to be here and thank you very much for your hospitality.

DOWNER: Do you have any questions? We’ll take questions for about five or six minutes, we’ve got to keep going.

QUESTION: Mr Downer in the wake of the WMD commission will you now concede that we went to war in Iraq under a false premise?

DOWNER: Well I think everybody knows the circumstances, the reason we went to war, we went to war on the basis of the - the technical explanation was on the basis of the failure by Iraq - by Saddam Hussein’s regime - to comply with something like 17 mandatory Security

Council resolutions. I made that perfectly clear at the time.

QUESTION: But you went to war on the basis of the intelligence of [indistinct]?

DOWNER: Well no, we went to war on the basis of the - the technical basis for the war in Iraq was as I described it. We made it perfectly clear that we thought the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein. I know some people don’t agree with that so on that point I digress - I diverge with those who think the world would be a better place if we’d left Saddam Hussein in power. I don’t buy that.

QUESTION: So you don’t have a problem with the flawed intelligence relating to the weapons of mass destruction.

DOWNER: We’ll talk to the Secretary-General.

QUESTION: Can I ask about the counter-terrorism sharing with NATO at the moment, is there any going on at all or is in terms of Australia’s relationship are they just trying to get a gauge on whether this is starting from scratch or there’s some sharing goes on at the moment.

HILL: Well there has been and would be one-offs. We’re trying to put in place structures and arrangements so - to be an ongoing basis and we can from that build knowledge from each other’s experience. So I’m sure there would’ve been instances through individuals where there would’ve been communications but we haven’t had the structures in place to, I think, fully and effectively share each others knowledge.

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QUESTION: But I mean, has there been arrangements where allies - Australia has sort of shared arrangements with allies. Is there any problem with some of the membership of NATO that Australia may not be willing to share?

HILL: No, that’s not an issue at all.

DOWNER: Look, we obviously have very intense intelligence-sharing arrangements with the British and the Americans as is well known, but we do share intelligence from time to time and in some cases on quite a regular basis with other NATO members.

But I think it makes a great deal of sense for us to share more intelligence with NATO on terrorism issues because this is a global problem and we don’t have any problem with sharing intelligence with any of the NATO countries on terrorism, none of the NATO countries support terrorism. They’re all very committed to the fight against terrorism and the more we work together the better.

SCHEFFER: I would just like to - just going to say that NATO has set up the Terrorist Threat Intelligence Unit, where NATO is also involved in combing, analysing intelligence and it’s important, I think, on the basis of the Security Agreement, you have to start somewhere. Australia’s input is of course valued. It’s a global threat, as Senator Hill and

Minister Downer were saying. So that is relevant for Australia but also certainly relevant for NATO. I come back to my point about added value.

QUESTION: …how close we get to NATO. Any thoughts of signing up? Joining?

DOWNER: Well we’re not in the North Atlantic region so…

QUESTION: No longer [indistinct]…

DOWNER: No, as Paul Keating used to say Australia can’t ever have an Evinrude diplomacy which means you can’t motor Australia around anywhere. You know Australia is where it is and we’re not part of the North Atlantic region. So, but I think the point here is not of course a question of membership; it’s just a question of building the co-operation between NATO institutionally rather than necessarily just the individual countries and Australia.

I’ve always thought it made a good deal of sense and I’m delighted that the Secretary-General is so enthusiastic about this. In our discussions we’ve been able to talk of course about Afghanistan, about Iraq, about the Middle East, about the security environment in East Asia. And it illustrates a point that, because a lot of these issues have a bearing on each other, it makes all the more sense today for us to have these sorts of links with organisations like NATO.

QUESTION: Secretary-General, on Afghanistan which obviously you discussed, what’s - there’s been a lot of reportage about the opium crops have just exploded since the exit of the Taliban and that most of the country isn’t actually secure under the control of the NATO security forces, what’s your - firstly your explanation for why the opium production has just accelerated massively, and does that reflect any shortcomings in securing the country outside of Kabul in particular.

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SCHEFFER: Well I think you and I can easily answer the question of why. It’s interesting for the farmers in Afghanistan to grow their poppies if you see the price they’re getting. It’s not so difficult to analyse. It’s one of the major problems facing the Kazai Government. We have to go into a change of mode in Afghanistan, I think, because the international community has taken responsibility for security and stability. But we now see an elected President. We’re going to see an elected Parliament in September so it’s up to President Kazai and his government and the international community under the leadership of the UN to define the framework in which the international community is going to assist Afghanistan.

And one of the major problems, dare I share with you, of course is the aspect of counter-narcotics. And that needs a combined and joint endeavour. You know that the G8 is under British leadership, focusing on counter-narcotics, that the operational plan which is guiding ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, gives the provincial reconstruction teams a certain role but not a primary role in counter-narcotics. So NATO is not having prime responsibility for counter-narcotics. That’s President Kazai in the first place and the British leadership but we need to find a solution for this problem. Because we cannot afford to send NATO forces into Afghanistan to provide security and stability, at the same time see Afghanistan developing into a narco state.

Now the first two issues, very much aware of this is President Kazai himself, who has started, under his responsibility and with the Afghan National Army last week and the week before, a campaign in trying to counter this immense narcotic problem. The international donor community should come here in full force because you can’t just forbid a farmer to grow poppies but we have to present him with an alternative crop.

So it needs a huge ambition by the international community to counter this problem which is the gravest, I think, in Afghanistan at the moment. And I think that that’s after the parliamentary elections in September, on the 18th. We need a new international conference because the bond process, the political bond process will come to an end formally when we see the parliamentary elections and we need a framework under which we’re going to work.

I discussed this with President Kazai not that long ago. He’s also convinced that this should happen so we might see a conference at the end of this year in Kabul or anywhere else where counter-narcotics will play a prominent part on the agenda.

DOWNER: And I just want to associate myself with those remarks too because I think this question of narcotics in Afghanistan is an enormous issue. There has been, for all the good things that have happened in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban and it’s wonderful to see the way democracy has taken hold there. And Afghanistan’s overall security situation really has started to look up.

But there has on the negative side been a substantial increase in poppy production. And on the one hand there are crop substitution programs but the substitute crops are nothing like as profitable as the poppies. And on the other hand, of course the other way to regulate that kind of farming is through enforcement mechanisms and there just isn’t the law and order capability there at the moment to deal with all of the poppy growing that’s taking place.

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So I know that people like the Russians are very focused on border control to stop the trafficking but it’s very hard to do.

QUESTION: Would Australia be at this conference that seems to be coming up prepared to throw in resources?

DOWNER: Well last year’s conference in Berlin - I’m trying to remember the month; I remember when it was, it was in March as there was another event occurring at the time - but in March last year I did participate in the Berlin Conference on Afghanistan so there’s every likelihood we would participate in a subsequent conference, yes.

QUESTION: Any thought of sending Australian troops back to Afghanistan? I think the total there now is one.

HILL: I think the total is one. We don’t have any plans at this time to send further troops to Afghanistan. I’m sure they would be welcome particularly in the provincial reconstruction teams and they have now been spread out further across Afghanistan and as the security situation continues to improve we expect that extension to expand even further but we don’t have a plan at this time.

QUESTION: Mr Secretary-General, would you like Australia to send more troops to Afghanistan?

SCHEFFER: Well I can see and understand after having spoken to Mr Downer and Senator Hill that Australia has a lot of priorities in this region and of course we mentioned and discussed already Iraq. I think that Australia could play an important role but I have to realise and I have to follow what the priorities of the Australian Government are.

Having said that Australia is an important, was an important player, is still an important player, and I’m following with great interest what’s happening in the decision making process in Australia. The PFC concept, the provincial reconstruction team concept is such, it works very well at the moment. As Senator Hill was saying, we are now expanding the ISAF, the international assistance force to the west of the country and hopefully soon to the south as well.

And finally also to the south-east and at the end of the day I would hope that we would have one operation in Afghanistan as we now have two, I serve an operation duly freedom under one NATO command. When that will be I do not exactly know but we’re working, we’re working all this is NATO.

QUESTION: I’d like to ask the Secretary General if he asked Mr Downer [inaudible].

SCHEFFER: Well what we discussed was Afghanistan, the structure of the PRTs. I have told my Australian interlocutors, the Ministers, that the PRT concept is important and that Australia in the future might again think about participating, but as you all have heard Senator Hill saying Australia decides on its own priorities and that’s not up to NATO, that’s up to the Australian government.

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QUESTION: Mr Secretary-General, how do you think NATO needs to be reformed to ensure it has the continuing relevant role in the future?

SCHEFFER: NATO is reforming. NATO has a relevant role. Your question might imply that you think that NATO doesn’t. NATO is in Afghanistan, NATO is in Kosovo, NATO is serving a naval operation in the Mediterranean. NATO is running a training mission in Iraq, so I think that NATO is doing it’s part in this global coalition against terror, against proliferation, against fragile and failing states.

NATO is fast forming fundamentally, militarily, politically, building new partnerships, new alliances, the fact I’m here [inaudible] as a first NATO Secretary-General. The allies realise that these threats are global and that we cannot find a solution all by ourselves on them, so I think NATO is in full swing, NATO is alive and kicking, and NATO is building indeed partnerships in this region, in the Middle East. I mean I’m travelling very frequently in the Middle East now. NATO is having its important partnerships with the Ukraine, with the Russians, with the European Union, with the UN, with central Asia, with the Caucuses. It keeps me off the streets I can tell you.

QUESTION: Another one on Afghanistan. Is there any evidence that the proceeds from opium are being used to finance Muslim extremist organisations or terrorist organisations?

SCHEFFER: I do not have that proof I must say. I do not have that proof so I can’t answer, I can’t possibly answer your question, but what I do know is that the products of those poppies ends up on the streets in Amsterdam, in Copenhagen, in Australia and everywhere

and I know that that has to stop because I cannot accept that the generations and the younger generations in our countries are being spoiled because we cannot control the poppy problem in Afghanistan.

But I say again the first one to realise this is President Kazai because he’s very ambitious indeed and it should be as Minister Downer was saying, it should be a combination of measures we have to take on the eradication side, on the alternative crop side to counter this problem.

QUESTION: Mr Downer, have you offered Arthur Sinodinis the US Ambassador’s job, and are you hoping he will accept it?

DOWNER: Never talk about diplomatic appointments until the moment comes when we announce them.

QUESTION: Is he a good candidate though for that job?

DOWNER: I think a lot of people would like to go to Washington as the Ambassador. I’m ruling you out though. Although you might be quite good.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] on Indonesia?

DOWNER: Look, first of all just very quickly on Indonesia, we’ve done a bit of a, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has done a bit of stock take in terms of looking for

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Australians in the region. Their estimate now, and these figures of course as you know change quite dramatically from time to time.

Their estimate now is that there are nine Australians who are still unaccounted for but that is not to say that we are necessarily deeply concerned about their welfare, but they believe there are now nine Australians in the region, who were in the region at the time of the earthquake, who they haven’t been able to contact.

Now I always am very cautious with these figures because some of those people might have moved out of the region since before the earthquake took place or since the earthquake took place. Communications are very difficult.

We started off with a figure thinking around 15 Australians in the region. That number’s gone up and down. The Department, though, during the course of the last 24 hours has contacted a total of 25 Australians who were in the region at the time, so they’re all well, with the exception of one of them who sustained minor injuries but he’s okay, and there are nine

who they haven’t yet been able to contact.

QUESTION: Just on another matter, on Asia Pacific Focus. Sunday the Malaysian Prime Minister will give an interview. He speaks about Australia, the Prime Minister and Australia’s relations in the region, He says that he thinks Australia’s not really centring on

Asia or East Asia and it’s too concerned with reflecting views of the United States. What would you say to that?

DOWNER: We look forward to his visit at the end of next week and we can discuss any manner of issues during his visit. It’ll be the first visit by a Malaysian Prime Minister to Australia, official visit by a Malaysian Prime Minister to Australia in a very, very long time. So I can only say that - well Dr Mahathir made a stopover in Brisbane and the Prime Minister met with him briefly, but it was just a stopover.

But this visit is very welcome and we look forward to discussing issues of bilateral, regional, and international importance with him during his visit.

QUESTION: He’s also criticised Iraq’s…

DOWNER: Sure but we can talk about all of that stuff when he’s here.

QUESTION: Given the failures on intelligence in Iraq and the new intelligence…

DOWNER: Back on this topic again?

QUESTION: Absolutely, well I’d like some…

DOWNER: Like the dog with a bone.

QUESTION: Well I wouldn’t mind a comment if I could get one.

DOWNER: You want me to tell you what…

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QUESTION: Have you built in any safeguards into these new arrangements that you’re making with organisations such as NATO to ensure that you don’t become a victim of wrong intelligence again?

DOWNER: Well look, we after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and once the Iraq Survey Group had done quite a lot of its work, we established a parliamentary committee. Then we had the Flood Inquiry. Those two reports have been produced. The government has considered them and the government has taken steps in response to the Flood Inquiry in terms of improving the operation of the Australian intelligence community.

My overall take out of this is though that, you know, we’ve been through this debate at great length and over a long period of time. And there’s much that we’ve all said on the record about these things. We believe that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein running Iraq. We think it was the right thing to do to get rid of Saddam Hussein’s regime. There’s no doubt he did use, he did have chemical and biological weapons. He used chemical weapons against his own people.

The Iraq Survey Group concluded in its final, in the last report it produced that he intended to reconstitute these programs after the United Nations inspections regime was completed. He’d seen the UN off the block. That was the conclusion they drew and for that reason and many others, many others as well, including simply on the basis of human rights concerns and promotion of democracy and freedom I think that the world is a much better and a much safer place without Saddam Hussein’s regime.

QUESTION: Senator Hill, could you just tell us if the Hercules got through from Jakarta and why they didn’t get through yesterday. There seems to be a disagreement why they had to go back to Jakarta - there are varying stories.

HILL: Well as of this morning I’ve been told that they haven’t got through. Now that might have changed in the last few hours. They couldn’t land on the island, the strip was out of order, and the next best option was to land at an airstrip on the north-west coast of Sumatra and they were unable to do that.

QUESTION: Because of the Presidential visit?

HILL: [Inaudible] there was an aircraft, a disabled aircraft at the airport so, you know, that’s a bit frustrating and a bit disappointing but on the positive side our ship will be there tomorrow, the sea kings will be operating. We’ve sent up the hospital team which should have met up. They were being taken by helicopter on to the ship.

They will use the, they will base themselves on the ship so they’ll be using the operating theatre on the ship but on each day they will be ferried on to the island to provide medical support as well, and what we’re starting to hear now is that the areas of greatest need tend to be in the outlying areas, the more difficult areas to get to, and we hope that our helicopters will be particularly useful in that regard and will be able to take the medical staff out further and assist in that regard.

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QUESTION: Land at Sinabang before they can be helicopter lifted.

HILL: Yes, the 707 is going to Sinabang, but I don’t think that’s been a problem and then they would be helicopter lifted on to the ship as it was transiting from Singapore.

DOWNER: There’s just one other piece of information which might interest you is that the team that went in a couple of days ago, the AusAID team which includes a doctor and some nurses, a couple of nurses I think, a logistician, they have now treated 160 injured people in Nias and that team and the consular team from the Embassy, which includes a Defence Attache from the Embassy in Jakarta, they are moving out of the capital of Nias into other parts of the island in order to get a better sense of what the situation is there, so we do, despite the problems of getting C130s in we do have people on the ground who are doing a good job, good work already.

Thanks very much. We ought to get going.

ENDS