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Howard keeps talking about North Korea but Downer does nothing.

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Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs


Reports overnight that North Korea has the technology to develop nuclear warheads are profoundly disturbing.

Reports that such warheads could be fitted to North Korea’s existing arsenal of intermediate-range ballistic missiles are equally disturbing.

These reports, allegedly sourced to US intelligence officials, presumably underpin John Howard’s Delphic statement last night that: “The leaders of North Korea are facing a fateful choice”.

The Australian people would like to know precisely what John Howard means by this statement. Is he saying the world is now on the precipice of war on the Korean Peninsula? Or is he saying something completely different? The problem is, nobody knows.

What we do know, however, is the Howard Government has no coherent policy for dealing with the North Korean threat to security in our own region, our own neighbourhood, our own backyard. In recent months we have seen:

• The US confirming that North Korea may possess the nuclear material necessary for the construction of up to three warheads; • North Korea conducting further tests of its ballistic missiles capabilities; and • North Korea seeking to develop an intercontinental-range ballistic missile, capable of

reaching both North America and northern Australia.

The Howard Government has spent most of its current term in office exclusively focused on security matters beyond our region - principally Iraq. Meanwhile, immediate security threats within our region (North Korea, terrorism in South East Asia and the implosion of the South West Pacific) have gone unattended. The Solomon Islands’ deployment, now necessary, is also an exercise in catch-up football for a Government which has sat on its hands on the Solomons question for the past three years - funding a $150 million abject foreign policy failure.

We are yet to see any real evidence of policy activism from the Howard Government on North Korea. For six months Labor has been calling on Foreign Minister Downer to:

• Visit Pyongyang, as one of the few Western foreign ministers with diplomatic relations with North Korea; and • Convene an emergency meeting of regional foreign ministers to forge a regional diplomatic consensus on North Korea’s threat to the stability and security of our region.

Mr Downer has sat on his hands on both of these proposals. It is time he acted - and acted now.

Ends 2 July 2003

Further information: Kevin Rudd, MP 0418 796 931 or Alister Jordan 0417 605 823