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Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2062

Senator LOOSLEY —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and follows earlier questions in this chamber relating to tensions on the Korean Peninsula and issues of nuclear non-proliferation. I ask: what is the reaction of the Australian government to the decision by the United States and the Republic of Korea to deploy patriot missile systems in the ROK? Will this move heighten tension on the peninsula? What steps might the Australian government offer for the lowering of the current tensions?

Senator GARETH EVANS —North Korea's nuclear program, together with its most recent refusal to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify the nature of this program, has obviously heightened tensions in the north-east Asia region. It is against this background that the decision has now been taken to deploy patriot missiles in the ROK. It is for South Korea and the United States to make their own decisions regarding their defence needs. The US has made clear that patriot missiles are a defensive system and that their deployment on the peninsula has been under consideration for some time. This move should, therefore, not be seen as an indication that the prospect of conflict on the Korean peninsula has come closer.

  As I have said on a number of occasions in this place, the DPRK nuclear issue is a matter of direct security significance for Australia. It is now before the UN Security Council as a result of the IAEA resolution adopted on 21 March. There is still time for North Korea to reverse its position in the dispute over full access by IAEA safeguards inspectors. We very much hope that Pyongyang will take this step. Failing that, we see a graduated series of steps likely to occur by the UN Security Council, starting with exhortatory action, moving forward towards more direct action, probably in the form of economic sanctions, as the need for stronger political action builds. It has to be stressed that throughout this process we and others will be very much seeking to keep available channels for dialogue with the DPRK open. We are encouraging Pyongyang to think very carefully about the risks of proceeding further down a path of confrontation.

  Finally, let me say this: there are ways that can be found to resolve this issue and to accommodate North Korea's own security concerns, as has already been made clear to Pyongyang. But North Korea has to first demonstrate that it is serious about finding a settlement through negotiation, including by allowing inspections of its declared nuclear facilities to proceed and by resuming a serious dialogue with South Korea.