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Prime Minister discusses Bali; Iraq; Osama bin Laden; capital punishment; expulsion of Iraqi diplomat; and George W Bush.



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PRIME MINISTER

11 March 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH JOHN LAWS, RADIO 2UE

Subjects: Protestors; Bali; Iraq; Osama bin Laden; capital punishment; Iraqi diplomat; George W Bush.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………………...

LAWS:

Prime Minister are you there.

PRIME MINISTER:

I am John, good morning.

LAWS:

Good morning, welcome home.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

LAWS:

I bet you’re happy to be home in a lot of ways.

PRIME MINISTER:

New Zealanders were very friendly and we had a good meeting. There were a few demonstrators, but New Zealand is a democracy like Australia. People have got a right to demonstrate. There weren’t all that many.

LAWS:

I’m just surprised the way people demonstrate their anger at you. I would have thought they should have been demonstrating their anger at Saddam Hussein. www.pm.gov.au

PRIME MINISTER:

I did figure more prominently than he did!

LAWS:

You did!

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn’t see too many caricatures of him, that’s absolutely right. It is one of the paradoxes of this whole debate. People say that they’re all united in their detestation of him, they say they’re united in their desire to have him disarmed, but they seem to direct most of their criticism against the people who are taking more active steps to bring that about. Maybe they should explain that. I can’t explain the logic of that.

LAWS:

There isn’t any. Have your comments over Bali been misconstrued, or were they a trifle hasty?

PRIME MINISTER:

They have been a little misconstrued by some. They weren’t hasty. I wasn’t saying that Iraq was responsible for the Bali attack. There is no evidence of that. What I was saying was that if we don’t disarm Iraq, and chemical and biological weapons get into the hands of terrorists, then we will potentially have more disasters than even in Bali. That’s the point I’m making.

LAWS:

Do you believe that Saddam Hussein would develop his weapons of mass destruction, which we now seem fairly convinced that he does have, in order to pass them on to other people though?

PRIME MINISTER:

The primary purpose of developing these weapons is to use them, and the difference between Iraq and other countries is that Iraq has a history of using them. The worry is that if Iraq is not denied them, then other rogue states will say - we can do the same safe in the knowledge that the world won’t stop it. And the greater the proliferation, then the danger of them being passed on will multiply. There are links between terrorist groups and Iraq. Iraq does pay $25,000 to every Palestinian family that has a member who is a suicide bomber in Israel, and there is a record in the past of links between Iraq and other terrorist organisations. The links with al Qaeda are less direct but…

LAWS:

Well they’re non-existent I think.

PRIME MINISTER:

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Well no, they’re not entirely non-existent. The material that was layed out in Colin Powell’s presentation to the Security Council established certainly a tolerance of the presence of some al Qaeda people in Iraq and some linkages. But it stands to reason that if you are a person who believes that it’s okay to use chemical and biological weapons against your own people, chemical weapons, and to use them against another army, then you have a greater propensity to give them to terrorist groups if you thought those terrorist groups serve your purpose. I mean John, in a way some of my critics on this are really saying - well you’ve got to prove beyond all reasonable doubt before in effect a jury at the central criminal court in Sydney or the Old Bailey. The world has never operated on that kind of basis. There is overwhelming evidence from Iraq’s past behaviour that they are an aggressive country. There is overwhelming evidence they will use these weapons. There is a real danger if they keep them, others will think they can do the same, and it stands to reason as a matter of logic that the more countries that have them, being rogue states the more likely it is that they will either be taken from them by terrorists or they’ll be handed to them. That’s the great worry I have.

LAWS:

You were asked some quite extraordinary questions in the last few days. One being would you kill Osama bin Laden. The question was couched in such terms it made it sound like where you would physically thrust the knife into his chest. That was a very… that was an extraordinary question and a difficult one to answer. Do you think that people are looking for alarmist answers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I hope they’re not, and I don’t want to give alarmist answers. I’m trying to give factual answers. I was asked by an American interviewer about my attitude to the execution of bin Laden if he were tried in the United States, and I said I would respect the laws of the United States. I don’t support the death penalty in Australia, but in the case of bin Laden and also in the case of the people charged with crimes in Bali, in neither case will they be tried under Australian law. And the point I’m simply making is that if the law of the United States or the law of Indonesia provides for capital punishment, I am not going to be protesting against the carrying out of that law by those countries. That doesn’t mean that I have a different view about the law in Australia. And I think with great respect there is a certain triviality, if I may say so, about those questions. I mean we’d all be delighted if bin Laden were captured and I would just hope he is punished with the full rigour of the law under the country in which he is tried.

LAWS:

Yeah. And if that necessitated capital punishment, I don’t think too many people would mind.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they certainly wouldn’t, and that’s what I said. And I certainly wouldn’t be leading a protest movement against it. I mean, heaven’s above, you’ve got to have some sense of proportion.

LAWS:

Of course. If the Americans lose patience with the UN and it appears that they are, do we still go with them.

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have to make a decision when we know the facts.

LAWS:

It’s taking a long time to get the facts.

PRIME MINISTER:

Always does John. We’re dealing with a very serious issue.

LAWS:

Very.

PRIME MINISTER:

And we’re dealing with quite a crucial moment in the history of the world in this new order, if I can put it that way, this order where international terrorism has replaced the conventional threat of state sponsored aggression where armies roll across the borders of neighbouring countries and the world has got to come to terms with how it handles it. If we give Iraq a victory of sorts out of this you will never get compliance. The only reason that Iraq is now complying is that there are military forces in the region and if people who criticise America and Britain and by implication Australia as well, forget that fact, they’re quite happy to take the dividend from the military presence and that is a few morsels of co-operation. What do they think would happen if those forces went home? Do they think the co-operation would still go on?

LAWS:

Of course not.

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean this is the weakness, if I can say so, of quite a number of those arguments.

LAWS:

Oh I agree with that. how important do you regard the address you’ll be making to the National Press Club on Thursday, is that going to be your last chance to make the case for war?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well obviously if we are committed, if we commit forces to military action I will make a detailed statement to Parliament and present a detailed justification for that decision to Parliament. I decided last week that I would take the opportunity of the Parliament being up to make a major address on this issue and it may fall either on the eve of the UN vote or it may fall immediately after the UN vote, I frankly don’t know. It’s an important address, it is an opportunity lay out, I hope, in a coherent effective way the arguments for what we have

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done thus far and the arguments for the world getting behind the resolution that’s being presented by the Americans and the British and the Spanish. And it’s a good opportunity, it’s a very good forum and I hope that it is an opportunity to present the case. This is not an easy issue and I do respect the fact that a number of people in the community don’t agree with me, I respect their views, but I feel very strongly that if we fumble the opportunity, if the world community fumbles the opportunity of bringing Iraq to account we’ll pay for it later on.

LAWS:

Are there, can I read anything into the timing of the expulsion of that Iraqi diplomat?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well not really John, I know there’s a bit of hoo-haa, it was something that was essentially dealt with by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I was just given a briefing by him on it, by his office, and it seemed to me to be a sensible decision. The idea that we’ve done it as some kind prelude and some way of hyping things up is just ridiculous, we did it for good security intelligence reasons, that often happens, that kind of thing happens all the time and I don’t think people should read too much into it.

LAWS:

It is being claimed that we’re only one of 60 nations to have taken the action after advice from the US.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look let me answer that question this way, if there were good reasons for taking the action would that matter?

LAWS:

That’s all that matters.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s all that matters. Now I find it very strange that whenever a decision is taken based on intelligence advice in the national interest people run around advancing as a reason for us not having done it despite it being in the national interest the fact that we might have been only one of 60 countries, I mean if we were only one of 60 countries that did the sensible thing well I’m perfectly happy to be that only one.

LAWS:

I agree with you. Why does Iraq have an embassy here anyway?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh well there has over the years been a view that you maintain relations with nations rather than with governments and the concept of diplomat recognition now is the recognition of nations rather than of governments and Iraq is a long standing recognised legal entity and although there are things about, well a lot of things about its government we don’t like that is

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of itself not a reason and of course it’s not to have an embassy and there are quite a number of Australians of Iraqi background in this country and there is for that reason an added argument for having it.

LAWS:

Will we get another Ambassador?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the person who’s gone, well he’d be replaced, the person’s who’s going, he’s not the Ambassador, the charge d'affaires.

LAWS:

Well will he be replaced?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we don’t have a plan at the moment, obviously that issue would have to be looked at if there were some kind of military action but we’ll deal with that if and when it arises. I mean we’re not going to act other than in accordance with the normal diplomatic behaviour in relation to those things, he’s welcome to stay while the circumstances are as they are. If things alter than I’ll leave it to the foreign affairs types to handle it in their normal way.

LAWS:

Okay. Have you talked to George Bush recently?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I haven’t spoken to President Bush since I was in America a few weeks ago, there’s really no particular reason at this stage, I’ve spoken to, I keep in regular touch with our Ambassador, I spoke to him only this morning and he’s very very connected into the administration, I have no doubt that I’ll talk to the President again in the near future but there’s no particular reason to be on the phone every day, we’ve got, we’ve each got a country to try and govern and deal with and we certainly have a very good relationship, we talk to each other when we need do.

LAWS:

Do you see a call as being imminent?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I wouldn’t expect to hear from him in the next couple of days if I can put it that way, I don’t, no. But you never know with these things, he’s probably, he’s probably on the phone to a few other people at the present time.

LAWS:

Okay, what like the French and the Russians?

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PRIME MINISTER:

Your imagination’s pretty good.

LAWS:

Thank you very much as usual for your time Prime Minister, I enjoyed talking to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]