Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Doorstop transcript: [President Bush's statement; United Nations Security Council; North Korea; Labor Party; Clint Betterridge; Iraq]

Download PDFDownload PDF

E and OE

7 February 2003

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer

Doorstop Transcript

Downer: I just wanted to say something about the statement that President Bush has made this morning. We are very pleased that in his resolve to ensure that Saddam Hussein is disarmed of chemical, biological and even in time nuclear weapons, President Bush has said that the United States will look to a second resolution from the United Nations Security Council. We, of course, are still hopeful that Hans Blix and Mohamed El-Baradei's visit to Baghdad this weekend will elicit a much greater degree of cooperation from the Iraqis than has been the case up until now. But if it doesn't achieve greater cooperation, and if the report by the inspectors back to the Security Council next Friday is a negative report, in the way the previous report was, then it is important that the United States remains engaged with the Security Council. And President Bush's statement today is encouraging. It demonstrates that the United States is prepared to stick with the UN process and to exhaust the UN process, whichever way that may happen. So it may be that there'll be a second resolution put to the Security Council. We hope if those circumstances do arise, and they will only arise if the weapons inspectors continue to report a lack of co-operation from Iraq, if those circumstances do arise we very much hope that the Security Council will show strength and determination in upholding its own previous unanimously supported resolution. Now, when I met with Secretary of State Colin Powell a fortnight ago in Switzerland, I said to him, as I have said to him over the telephone on previous occasions, that I did want the United States, if the worse came to the worst, to go back to the Security Council for a second resolution. I thought at the time he seemed sympathetic to that, and I think I said so publicly. And I know that the British Government has been urging President Bush also to keep the option of a second resolution wide open. So I'm delighted President Bush has shown the willingness to listen to his close allies and friends on this issue, and is prepared to consider going down that path. That is good news. And I think Australians will be pleased about that because I think the sense here in Australia is that people very much want the UN processes to be fully exhausted. And President Bush is showing an admirable determination to stick with UN processes.

Journalist: Inaudible

Downer: I think these are foolish comments for the North Koreans to make. They don't achieve anything. I don't think for a minute North Korea is about to launch a pre-emptive strike, but I think it's unfortunate that they should use that sort of language, (inaudible) in a context where you have no intention of mounting any kind of military strike - I'm sure they don't. I think though it simply underlines to all of us that Iraq isn't the only issue we have to deal with, but it is an issue we have to deal with. We also have to continue to focus on the issue of North Korea. We've been doing that a great deal over the last few weeks. And I've been speaking in Europe, last week, with my counterparts about North Korea, and what Europe and Australia and of course the United States can do to address the problem. The North Koreans have now firmly rejected the proposals to have multilateral talks with nine other countries including Australia, which we had been pushing and a number of other countries, including the Americans had been pushing. So, we now have to await the outcome of the

International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors meeting on the 12th of February and see what that meeting concludes. Australia is a member of the Board of Governors, so we'll be having something to say at that meeting and contributing to the resolution. In time, the Board of Governors' views will be passed to the Security Council and so at a certain point the United Nations Security Council will have to use the language of diplomacy to (inaudible) this issue. But I would have hoped that before it went to the Security Council, the North Koreans would be prepared to sit down with a number of other countries and talk this through. But they've not wanted to do that. They insist on bilateral talks with the United States. I notice that Richard Armitage, the US Deputy Secretary of State said a couple of days ago, quite publicly, that the US would be prepared to talk bilaterally with North Korea. Colin Powell told me that a week or so earlier. I'm pleased about that. I think in the end there will have to be direct dialogue between the United States and North Korea.

Journalist: If the UN doesn't support a second resolution, will Australia back a US-led attack?

Downer: I think if the situation arises that a second resolution is necessary, and the United States and the United Kingdom put a second resolution to the Security Council, I think the Security Council will support that resolution. Some countries may abstain. It is a matter of judgement and my judgement is that a second resolution will get through the Security Council, if there are further negative reports from the inspectors. I mean obviously if the UN inspectors come back to the Security Council and say, we've just had the best week imaginable in the last twelve years, the Iraqi regime is now fully co-operating with the inspectors, there won't be any need for a second resolution. But if they provide a negative report, I think there'll be a strong view that second resolution is necessary. And I don't think a second resolution will be vetoed by anyone.

Journalist: So you don't think unilateral action will be necessary?

Downer: No I don't. Well what you call unilateral action? You mean that is…

Journalist: US led ..

Downer: I don't think anyone calls that unilateral action, but anyway, it's a commonly used expression. But the Labor Party on the one hand attacks the United States for unilateralism and on the hand attacks us for supporting them. Well that can't be unilateral if that's the case. But I mean just to make the more serious point here, I think it is unlikely that there would be even a need for military action outside of a second Security Council resolution. It's possible, but I'm saying to you I'm optimistic that that won't happen and obviously from our point of view, if military action was to occur, we still hope it won't, but if military action is to occur, we would obviously hope that there would be a second Security Council resolution to give further endorsement and further authority, and I think further comfort to the international community. And I think in those circumstances you would get a broader coalition too, including more support in the Arab world than you would without a second resolution. That's my own view.

Journalist: How do you view the US Ambassador's (inaudible)

Downer: Look, the relationship between the United States Government and the Australian Labor Party is not a matter for me, I'm a member of neither, and I never will be. But I would make this point. I think that during the course of this week, what we've seen is, on the one hand, Mr Crean blowing the dog whistle of anti-Americanism - he says on the one hand he supports the alliance and then spends copious amounts of time attacking President Bush and

attacking the Americans, spares barely a moment to criticise Saddam Hussein. And this has unleashed anti-Americanism which is latent in some sections of the Labor Party. This has unleashed anti-Americanism within the Labor Party. He's basically given a sanction to the anti-American lobby within the Labor Party to break loose, and they have broken loose. And this anti-Americanism, this anti-US alliance view - it's not been the view of the leadership of the Labor Party under Hawke, under Keating, under Beazley, and it has been allowed to become a quite flourishing view under the leadership of Crean, because Crean himself has no understanding of geopolitics, no sense of direction on these great and difficult issues. I mean this is a time in Australia's and in the world's history, where we are confronting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the threat of international terrorism, when a country does need is decisive leadership. And Mr Crean has turned up as the Leader of the Opposition, with no understanding of these issues. He's had a look at the Newspoll. He makes up his mind what lines to run from the Newspoll, and this has allowed anti-Americanism within the Labor Party to flourish unfettered. This never happened under Mr Beazley. I would make one other point. There is a story on the front page of ‘The Australian' newspaper today, about the Americans criticising the Labor Party. It is perfectly clear that story has come from within the Labor Party and it simply demonstrates the point that there are people in the Labor Party, like Mr Beazley the former leader, like Senator Ray, like Mr Rudd the Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs, who inside are deeply worried about the way Mr Crean has unleashed anti-Americanism in the Labor Party. They are deeply worried about that because there are people in the Labor Party who are committed to the American alliance. And Mr Rudd and Mr Beazley and Senator Ray are the three that particularly come to mind. But Mr Crean isn't interested in any of these geopolitical issues or issue of substance and policy and he has allowed this rampant immature anti-Americanism - constant attacks during the debate on President Bush and other members of the Administration, ridiculing of President Bush and barely a bad word said about the world's most brutal dictator Saddam Hussein. And I think it's a sad day that the Labor Party has reached this sort of base level of anti-intellectualism which seems to have dominated under Mr Crean's leadership.

Journalist: Minister, do you have any updates on the Clint Betterridge issue?

Downer: I don't have any updates. I don't have anything further today. After the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's mistake, we very much hope it's going to be possible to extradite Betterridge back to Cambodia. And if not to be able to press charges against him here in Australia. These sort of people disgust Australians and they disgust me. And here is a man convicted of one of the most odious of crimes and we want him behind bars. He's been convicted and, so bearing in mind what's happened, the Government will do everything it possibly can to make sure either he is sent back to Cambodia, or else on the other hand that he is prosecuted here in Australia.

Journalist: Inaudible

Downer: Well I think the department explained that yesterday and we can get you the transcript of what they said. They explained chapter and verse the phone calls and they've been very up front in explaining the mistake.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: Obviously the official has been severely reprimanded, of course. But at the end of the end of the day the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has made a mistake and we've got to try to rectify the mistake. There's no point in just spending the rest of our time pounding away at the officials who made the mistake. (Inaudible). I think we've just got to

try to rectify the mistake the Department's made.

Journalist: Has any consideration been given to (inaudible) charges against him in Australia?

Downer: This really isn't a matter that falls within my portfolio but I understand that obviously is an option - I mentioned that. That is an option.

Journalist: Inaudible

Downer: Well you'll have to ask the Minister for Justice about those sorts of legal details.

Journalist: When were you first made aware of the issue and what was your response when you were made aware?

Downer: Well I personally became aware, I can't remember the exact date, I personally became aware of the issue some time this week. I sought information from the Department. The initial advice I got was they had no choice but to issue the passport under the Passports Act, but then they came back to me and said on reconsideration, they've had another look at the Act. Because I was a bit surprised to hear that that was their view. (Inaudible)

Journalist: Is the department aware of Clint Betterridge's whereabouts?

Downer: Well my Department isn't responsible for that. It's a matter for the Minister for Justice, so you'd have to ask him.

Journalist: Minister there have been fresh concerns raised about Australians troops (inaudible). Are we really satisfied that proper protective measures have been put in place?

Downer: Protective measures have been put in place, certainly I understand that. It's something the Defence Force has given a high priority to and what is more there are protective measures in place for Australians in Embassies in the Middle East region.

Journalist: Chemical and biological problems or does it also take into account nuclear?

Downer: No the focus is on chemical and biological risks. (Inaudible) not likely to be any nuclear weapons used in those circumstances because as we've often said, that the problem with Iraq is it did have a nuclear program. Its nuclear program was dismantled but it's perfectly clear, and this was pointed out in Secretary of State Powell's comments yesterday, that the Iraqis want to try to rebuild their nuclear program. But I don't believe that the Iraqis have a nuclear weapon that they could use in the event of a conflict.

Journalist: So do you think there's any likelihood of a weapon containing depleted nuclear materials being used?

Downer: I'm not sure of the answer to that question. I would have thought it unlikely but I couldn't really comment, I don't know the answer to that. But I do know that the Defence Force are taking protective measure for various contingencies that they could confront, and for the details of those you'll have to go and ask them about them.

Journalist: Just back to the US Ambassador. Is it appropriate for him to be commenting on domestic politics?

Downer: Well I think as far as the American Ambassador and his relationship with the Labor Party is concerned, that is entirely and ultimately a matter for the Ambassador and for the Australian Labor Party, and if there are problems in their relationship they should sort it out amongst themselves. I think the Labor Party, I made a lot of comments about the Labor Party and the Americans today. I mean I think the Labor Party just has to reflect on some of the loose and immature language that's being used.

Journalist: Question on update of Hicks situation.

Downer: Well the last I heard of Hicks is that he's still in Guantanomo Bay, that he is in adequate health and there's been no change in the situation. I haven't heard much about it for a while.

Journalist: Are you concerned that he still hasn't had any legal representation?

Downer: This is the situation isn't it - where he was detained in combat. He was in combat on the side, so we think, of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. And we have troops in Afghanistan and so do the Americans. He was in combat against Australians and against our allies, and in these circumstances he's a combatant. And I suppose that it's only understandable that people who have been fighting our troops, people who have been fighting with an organisation like Al-Qaeda, which is the world's most notorious terrorist organisation, are going to find themselves in a fair degree of difficulty.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: I think when the conflict ends, that is the combat in Afghanistan is complete, we've concluded there'll be further consideration about what to do with the people in Guantanomo Bay. There's no doubt that those people have been detained as combatants and obviously they've been important sources of information also in the war against terrorism.

Journalist: Is there any timeline?

Downer: When the battle's won - it'll be finished.

Journalist: Minister, regarding North Korea, you were really quite firm in saying you didn't believe there would be a pre-emptive strike. Why are you so convinced (inaudible).

Downer: I think self interest would be the explanation for that. I think any strike by North Korea would be unproductive from the point of view of anybody, but certainly not to the benefit of the North Koreans.

Journalist: Just finally, George Bush made the quite forceful statement that the game is up. It's a very final sounding statement for Iraq. Does that up the anti? Just how critical a statement is that?

Downer: I think we've reached the point where even the most sceptical of people, whatever country they're from, clearly know that the Iraqis have not been complying with Security

Council resolution 1441. And they've been caught red-handed and the material that Colin Powell took before the Security Council yesterday illustrated that beyond any doubt. Nobody's arguing any longer that Iraq is complying with Security Council resolution 1441. Nobody's claiming that. And it's getting very late in the day for the Iraqi Government to make a dramatic change in policy, which is what they should do. And it's in their best interests to do that and fast. And they've got to do it over this weekend, in their discussions with Hans Blix and Mohamed El-Baradei. And when the report comes back in next Friday from the UN inspectors it's important that it's a good report. It's important that it's a report that says there has been a dramatic change in the level of co-operation between the Iraqis and the United Nations. Otherwise if the report is a negative report I think the Security Council will then contemplate the issue further.

ENDS………………………………………………………..……..7 February 2003