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Prime Minister addresses Sydney Institute, focusing on regional partnerships and North Korean nuclear capabilities.

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Wednesday 1 July 2003

Prime Minister addresses Sydney Institute, focusing on regional partnerships and North Korean nuclear capabilities


LINDA MOTTRAM: Putting more meat o n the bones of the Government's overhaul of Australian foreign policy, the Prime Minister John Howard used a speech at the Sydney Institute last night to emphasise regional partnerships and to again argue the case for a more interventionist Australian role in this region. 


The speech built on the comments by Mr Howard's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, last week, which underscored what the Government sees as deep flaws in the multilateral system. 


Mr Howard's attention was also drawn to the again escalating matter of the North Korea nuclear standoff after a New York Times report that Pyongyang is developing small nuclear warheads to fit atop its growing missile arsenal, adding to concern about attacks on South Korea and Japan. 


Mr Howard restated a commitment to help resolve the Korean Peninsula tensions. He has not outlined whether his Government would support any military action in that case, telling his audience that Australia is in continuing discussion with the US about options for a resolution. 


Our reporter Michael Vincent went along to Mr Howard's speech.  


MICHAEL VINCENT: The report says American intelligence officials now believe North Korea is developing technology to make nuclear warheads small enough to fit onto their existing arsenal of medium to long range missiles. It went on to say that the intelligence assessment has been shared with Japan, South Korea and other allies in recent weeks. 


It had only been printed hours before, but when asked about it Mr Howard gave the appearance he was on top of the issue, however he didn't answer whether Australia was one of those "other allies" which had been briefed. 


JOHN HOWARD: I've seen a brief report of The New York Times report. I saw it just before I left my office this evening. 


We are having discussions with the United States arising out of a discussion I had with President Bush in Texas a few weeks ago about possible action that countries may take in relation to the subject you mention. Perhaps I can best say that those discussions continue.  


I don't want to unduly heighten the drama. Equally, however, it's obvious that North Korea is a huge problem. 


MICHAEL VINCENT: Mr Howard has renewed calls for Beijing's intervention on the Korean issue. 


JOHN HOWARD: There's no country in the world that probably has more influence, direct influence on North Korea than China and I know that many countries will be encouraging China to exercise a very sobering influence on North Korea. 


It's not in China's interests, it's not in anybody's interest that North Korea go down the undesirable path that I pointed to. 


LINDA MOTTRAM: Prime Minister John Howard speaking in Sydney last night. 


Michael Vincent reporting.