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Foreign Minister discusses his visit to Europe; Iraq; US military commissions; and Iran.



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 27 June 2006

TITLE: Interview with BBC World Service, World Update

PAUL HENLEY: Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is visiting Europe at the moment lobbying for greater international cooperation among his counterparts. Australian troops are part of the multinational force serving in Iraq and I asked him what he made of the current security situation there.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: We don’t have easy choices. I think it would be the wrong thing for us all just to haul up the white flag and leave Iraq to the insurgents and to Al Qaeda. I think that would be a catastrophe for the Iraqis first and foremost, but it would also be a catastrophe for the Middle East and for the war against terrorism. So we just have to grit our teeth and stick to the task.

HENLEY: But given what’s going on there now, the new government using the word reconciliation seems almost hopelessly optimistic doesn’t it?

DOWNER: I wouldn’t say hopelessly optimistic. This is a process that’s going to take a good deal of time. Obviously from our point of view it’s important they continue the process of standing up their own security forces so they can increasingly takeover responsibility for the difficult security environment there is.

HENLEY: And the Australian Government has repeatedly backed US foreign policy specifically on the issue of Guantanamo Bay and the sole Australian inmate there. Do you still standby the US’s right to prosecute him and to hold him where he is?

DOWNER: I certainly do. He has been charged with very serious charges - conspiracy to commit war crimes and attempted murder. The credibility of the military commissions is being tested now in the US Supreme Court, so they will make the ultimate judgement about

whether the military commissions are an appropriate form of trial or whether they’re not. We’re expecting that decision anytime soon.

HENLEY: Indeed Britain has already argued that the US military commission system set up to try the people in Guantanamo Bay is illegal and is unjust, so obviously you are at odds with British policy on that?

DOWNER: Well I think that the ultimate arbiter here of the credibility of an American judicial process is going to be the United States Supreme Court. We’ll see what it says. If they

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uphold the military commission process, well then that would be satisfactory for us. Of course if they say that the military commissions are completely unacceptable and shouldn’t proceed, well the Americans will be back to square one and we’ll obviously have to consider our position. What we’ve said about Hicks is that he’s got to be charged and tried, but if they’re not going to charge him and try him they should release him.

HENLEY: Do you think that what happens next in Iran will be proof of the usefulness of real international cooperation, there are a lot of cynics on that?

DOWNER: Well there are. I think it’s a great test for the United Nations system. As we know we can go through a litany of failures of the United Nations over the years, but I suppose at the end of the day we always hope that the next time it’ll be able to work. This time the United Nations process is coupled with the EU3 and the United States are working very hard to find a diplomatic solution to the Iran stand-off. I hope very much that the Iranians will realise now that the Europeans and the Americans are making a very generous offer to the Iranians and that they won’t proceed with their enrichment programs and that we can see an appropriate diplomatic settlement to this problem. It is very important we do because if Iran developed a nuclear weapons program that would be enormously destabilising and it would have tremendous consequences for the nuclear non-proliferation regime around the world as well, so it is very important this diplomacy succeeds.

HENLEY: That’s the Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

ENDS