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Australia intervenes in North Korea nuclear weapons crisis.

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Friday 11 February 2005

Australia intervenes in North Korea nuclear weapons crisis


PAUL LOCKYER: Further to that story, Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has spoken to the North Korean Ambassador, urging his country to go back to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons program. 


Mr Downer says there's no need for "excessive alarm" about North Korea's declaration of nuclear arms, or the fact that it's pulled out of the six-nation talks aimed at bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula. 


The Foreign Minister has also spoken to the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the latest developments. 


From Canberra, Kim Landers reports. 


KIM LANDERS: Alexander Downer acknowledges North Korea's a regime that's never been easy to deal with. But he's still taken a step of speaking to the North Korean Ambassador to warn him of what's at stake by the regime's decision to walk away from the six-nation talks. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: I told the North Korean Ambassador that it is in North Korea's best interests to re-engage with the United States and other countries through the six-party talks process, so that the North Koreans themselves can get a security arrangement, which will suit them, but also their economy will be able to develop. 


KIM LANDERS: He concedes the Ambassador has given no indication if, or when North Korea would be willing to rejoin talks with the US, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: I took some encouragement from the fact that although he thought the climate wasn't right at the moment, that implies that circumstances could change and the climate could be better. 


KIM LANDERS: Labor's Foreign Affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, describes it as a major diplomatic and security challenge.  


KEVIN RUDD: I'll be seeing the North Korean Ambassador myself in Canberra on Monday to reinforce the view of all sides of Australian politics, that we want diplomacy to return and we want to avoid any crisis in our region. 


KIM LANDERS: And he's urged the Government to dispatch Australia's ambassador to China, who is also accredited to North Korea, to Pyongyang for urgent talks. 


KEVIN RUDD: The Howard Government, for two and a half years, has focused all of its efforts on Iraq and the Middle East and kept its eye off the ball when it comes to emerging security threats in our wider region. 


KIM LANDERS: North Korea's nuclear ambitions are a key issue for this region. Last August, on the eve of a rare two-day visit to Pyongyang, Alexander Downer made the astonishing claim that North Korea could launch a ballistic missile to hit Sydney. He later clarified this statement, saying he didn't think North Korea intended to launch an attack. 


The Prime Minister has told Southern Cross Radio today he's unsure if the North Koreans have that capacity. 


JOHN HOWARD: Well, there's debate about that and there's some suggestions that they might have the capacity to deliver things to the northern part of Australia, I think that's probably fairly debatable. 


KIM LANDERS: Australia was one of the first Western countries to re-establish diplomatic relations with North Korea when it restored ties in 2000. 


Now the Foreign Minister says the international community will have to show resolve, strength and persistence, particularly China, which has the most influence on North Korea. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: It is our view that North Korea is likely to have two or three nuclear warheads. The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, El Baradei, during the course of last year, suggested publicly that they might even have more than two or three.  


We don't really know, but we do know that they've been working at… at certainly reprocessing, we believe almost certainly, enriching uranium. And bearing that in mind they are likely to have some nuclear weapons albeit maybe just two or three. 


PAUL LOCKYER: The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, ending that report from Kim Landers.