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Australian mission to the UN, New York, 30 September 1996: transcript of media conference

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30 September 1996

Australian mission to the UN, New York, 30 September 1996: transcript of media conference

I thought I would say something to start with about this speech I'm making this afternoon on behalf of the Australian Government. The main theme of the speech I'll be making today is disarmament. The Government believes there is a window of opportunity following the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for the disarmament and non- proliferation agenda to be taken forward. there has been a substantial change in the international climate following the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Test ban Treaty. I understand, by this afternoon, over a hundred countries will have signed it. This opportunity has to be taken, and we want, in our statement today, to encourage further progress in the field of disarmament and non- proliferation. I'll be circulating to the General Assembly today, the report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. That report will be given by me to the Secretary- General of United Nations, Mr Boutros Boutros- Ghali. That report will also be taken to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva early next year. On particular disarmament issues, the Australia Government will be promoting a so- called cut- off convention on the production of nuclear weapons. We believe there is strong support for that cut- off convention, and we will be arguing strongly for it. We will also be supporting a global convention banning the use and production of landmines, and Australia has proposed the establishment of a technical working group on de- mining co- operation. We'll also be promoting peacekeeping reform. In particular, the need for clear mandates for peace- keeping operations and giving our support for a rapid- reaction capability. I will, specifically, be referring, in the context of peace keeping and global issues, the United Nations should address to the problem of Cyprus. It's many years now since the present arrangements in Cyprus came into place with the Turkish invasion; it's over 20 years ago and still there has been no resolution to that problem. I think Australia can play a role in encouraging the resolution of that problem, and I do so mindful of the fact that the House of Representatives in Canberra recently passed a resolution urging a significant role for Australia, and I'm happy to take that up. We will be arguing for Security Council reform, particularly for Japan and Germany to become permanent members of the Security Council, for there to be permanent regional seats for under- represented areas and the non- permanent membership to be expanded so that there is a total Security Council membership of around 25.

I also want to focus on the non- military trans- boundary threats: the arms traded in narcotics trade, the spread of HIV Aids, trans- boundary environment problems. These are all issues that lend themselves to international co- operation, not just unilateral or, sometimes, bilateral or regional solutions. And finally I will be promoting Australia's Security Council campaign yet again. This is a matter of importance to us. The campaign is getting now to its closer stages.

We have got about a month to go. I think it is very tight, and we're going to have to work very hard at it over the next month to secure a position on the Security Council. All the other candidates are working very hard as well, and given that it's a tight campaign, we will be using all of our resources to make sure that we are able to be successful. I won't make any prediction about what will happen. I'm cautiously optimistic, but I just don't know at this stage. Alright, happy to answer any questions.

Question: Are you pleased by the news of the Summit in Washington in the next couple of days re the Middle East?

Minister: I'm very pleased that agreement has now been reached to hold the summit. It's very important that that happens. The Australian Government is urging the renewal of discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. I think it's important, though, not just that the summit happens, but that it produces a much better climate for the continuation of the Madrid process and the overall Middle East peace process. The events of the last week are deeply disturbing; that's why I was prepared myself to go to open session of the Security Council to make the points I made. But we welcome the Summit, but we want to see a summit that produces results and gets the peace process back into train. The two sides have given commitments through the peace process and those commitments should be adhered to.

Question: Are you saying by that that those commitments have not been adhered to, and if so, which side has not adhered?

Minister: No, I'm not saying they haven't been adhered to; I'm saying they need to be adhered to. I don't want to see the peace process slow down. I don't want to see delay. I want to see the momentum of the peace process maintained. And obviously, the events of last week are deeply disturbing because they have raised in some people's minds the whole future of the peace process, but this summit is an excellent opportunity to make sure that the momentum of the peace process is fully maintained.

Question: Do you think that the Israeli Government is genuinely interested in preserving the peace process?

Minister: Well, you'll have to put that question to the Israeli Government. I think it's important that they are committed to the peace process and pursuing the peace process, and I think that it's important that all parties to the Madrid process do so.

Question: If all goes well, you now have over 60 countries that have signed CTBT?

Minister: I think now we have about 100.

Question: Okay, if all goes as planned, the future of nuclear testing will only take place in a laboratory setting. Is that it? You won't have to have bonafides nuclear test. There has been a lot of confusion, a lot of suspicions, from many countries that this would be used by Americans and others to develop some four- stage nuclear designs and new weapons clandestinely. Why has Australia felt confident that this stewardship program would not be used in, say, some future government that didn't feel very strongly about CTBT to make more advanced weapons. And what do you say in your arguments to countries like India and other countries when you try to persuade them that this is a good thing?

Minister: Well, two points I'd make there. First, on the technical front, the capacity of any country, any of the nuclear weapons states, to develop further their nuclear capacity is extremely restricted because they do not have the capacity to conduct tests. So, in the end, they will never know whether the work they have done is successful. They might be able to make some assumptions, but they will never actually know. And so, I'm certainly advised, that this will impose very severe restrictions on the nuclear weapons states' capacity to take their technology forward. Secondly, and most importantly, I think that signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by the five nuclear weapons states and around 100 countries has fundamentally changed the global environment of the disarmament and non- proliferation debate. I think the signing of this treaty has sent a strong message to all countries that, as far as the nuclear arms race in concerned, that arms race must come to an end - and it has come to an end - and more than that, the global community wants to see the disarmament process now taken forward and taken forward seriously, not just rhetorically, but wants to see serious measures. Now, we all know, we all know, that it will take time, but we don't want to lose - and as I've said in the speech, as I will say in the speech - we don't lose this window of opportunity to take the whole issue forward. The cut- off convention on the production of fissile materials is a good illustration of what we can move to next. Just to say, as far as those countries who feel that the nuclear weapons states have a privileged position and that what the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty does is consolidate their privilege, I would say: "Look, there are five nuclear weapons states. That's a fact of life. But I would rather have five nuclear weapons states than 50 nuclear weapons states. And we have a much safer world for the fact that there are only five nuclear weapons states, and its a miracle that the last 30 years there hasn't been a greater proliferation of nuclear weapons; it's an extraordinary thing.

Question: You mentioned that fissile cut- off. I understand India's position; I understand it. In a statement that Ambassador Sha made after the signing of the CTBT that there could be problems with the negotiations on the fissile cut off and the CD because they have the same problem in terms of they still want it time- bound?

Minister: Well, I think we will cross that bridge when we come to it. I wouldn't want to get into the game of anticipating what the problems might be?

Question: Today, you are going to launch the Canberra Commission. When you were in opposition, you actually dismissed this as a political stunt by the Labor Government and said that nobody, none of the five, would take this seriously, because the decisions would be based on geo- strategic considerations. So why have you changed your mind since January?

Minister: Well, I made a perfectly legitimate political point then about the timing of the establishment of the Canberra Commission. I don't want to go through that, but that was obviously done in the lead- up to the last election in Australia and followed the mishandling by the previous Government of the French nuclear testing issue. I did say, though, that I thought this exercise could produce useful work. When we came to government, I made it perfectly clear that I wanted the Canberra Commission to produce a report that was practical and realistic, and my concern had been that, whilst it could produce useful work, that wasn't a guarantee that it would produce useful work. So, what I've done since I've been...since our government has been in place, is to make it perfectly clear that, if this Canberra Commission exercise is to have any value at all, then the report, when it lands on the desks of the nuclear weapons states, has got to be taken seriously. Now, I have worked very hard to ensure that that has happened. And

if we hadn't won the election, obviously I wouldn't have been able to do that. But, I have worked very hard to make sure that this has happened, and I am satisfied that the report that ultimately was produced by the Canberra Commission is a practical and realistic document, and I was heartened last week to read the remarks by the White House spokesman that the United States Administration was looking, with interest, at the Canberra Commission report. So I so think that it has ultimately achieved the objectives that I set after the election. Which were to produce a practical and realistic document, which would have credibility in the capitals of the nuclear weapons states.

Question: Do you think that there is any real prospect that it will become central to the disarmament debate? I mean, have you had any feedback at this stage from it?

Minister: Well, I've been working pretty hard on a lot of things while I have been here over the last week, but one of the things I have been working hard on is getting governments to focus on the Canberra Commission Report, and I have raised it with many foreign ministers because, of course, the foreign ministries have all received copies of it, but the foreign ministers themselves haven't necessarily focussed on it. So I've been encouraging them to focus on it. I could only say that the responses that I've been getting have been pretty good responses, and I think, in any case, a lot of the recommendations in it are likely to be very attractive to governments around the world. One of the points I've made is that there is no point in, every year, in the General Assembly putting up resolutions which are simply going to be seen as not credible by the nuclear weapons states. What you have got to do is find a road map which is likely to be acceptable to the nuclear weapons states. I think the Canberra Commissions's Report is the road map, much of which is regarded as credible by the nuclear weapons states, and I will be interested, in a month or so, to see how we're getting on, in terms of raising the profile of the Canberra Commission Report. But today's exercise is designed, amongst other things, to ensure that it has a higher profile. I'll be presenting it to the Secretary- General of the United Nations on Wednesday. And so, I think, it's all heading in the right direction.

Question: The Indians, though - and presumably the other states as well - have the same objections to the Canberra Commission as they did to the CTBT. They say that there is no time- ban framework for the elimination of nuclear weapons? How do you respond to that?

Minister: Well, I made it clear to the Canberra Commission myself that I didn't think a time- bound framework would be acceptable to the nuclear weapons states. And if you wand to take the disarmament agenda forward, they you have to encourage the nuclear weapons states to go with you. Otherwise, the exercise is just an exercise in rhetoric, not an exercise in achievement. It's all very well for some, and quite a lot of governments support the idea of a time- bound framework, but it won't be acceptable to the nuclear weapons states, and, well, you've got to take their views into account, since, ipso facto, they are the nuclear weapons states.

Question: If your comments about changing the contribution system to the UN and abolishing or reducing the level of contribution, are you contemplating keeping the UN budget the same or actually increasing the larger economies' contributions?

Minister: Well, at this state, we are not getting into the overall level of contribution. I certainly don't want to get into the game of drawing up draft budgets for the UN. I would say that the fact of the UN budget at the moment is

that it is falling considerably short of what the UN regards as an adequate budget. I have to say that the main reason for that is that not all countries which have a commitment to meet their assessments have done so, and, of course, we urge those countries that haven't fulfilled those commitments to do so and are glad that some of them have said they will. So, I don't want to get into the game of talking about what I regard as the perfect size of the UN budget; that would be a very difficult task to do.

Question: Given that America has been very reluctant to pay its share, isn't an increased share, at this point, given the current mood of this country, going to make things worse?

Minister: Well, I'm not sure about that. I think what would make things better would be if the United States Congress agreed to the payment of the United States' arrears. I note that the President is committed to that, and I'd like to see the whole- of- government approach in the United States to share that commitment - that is, I'd like to see the Congress share that commitment - for that problem to be resolved. I think, obviously, the Administration well and truly recognises that. I think the whole issue of the finances has very much got bogged down in that particular issue.

Question: One other point, you made some comments about the need for UN missions to be more focused. Do you have any past missions in mind when you say that?

Minister: Well, I don't think any one would argue with the fact that the Bosnian mission was an example of a mission that didn't work well. The scenes on television of peace- keepers chained to poles and the humiliations that were involved in the Bosnian mission did the United Nations reputation internationally some damage. Part of the problem with that particular operation as I understand it is that the mandate was, in fact, quite confused. Commanders on the ground had difficulty interpreting the mandate that they had. And one of the lessons that I think the international community generally agrees has been learnt from that particular operation and some others, but that particular operation, is that the mandates need to be tight- focused, well- drafted and absolutely unambiguous. They really have to be. If you're committing troops, even in a peace- keeping operation, you want to do so to a mission which is an unambiguous, clear- cut mission: you know what you're doing; you know when the mission starts; you know what the objective of the mission are; and when the objectives are fulfilled, the mission is completed. It's got to be clear- cut, crisp, neat. And some missions in the past, the Bosnian one is probably the best example, did not have that type of mandate.

Question: Mr Foreign Minister, the US has made increasingly clear that, even after the election, it intends to maintain its position in vetoing Boutros Boutros- Ghali. Does your Government feel it's time to start thinking about other possible candidates, other competitors to Boutros Boutros- Ghali?

Minister: Well, I would make two points. One is that there are some governments that think that after the US election is over, the US will change its position on Boutros Boutros- Ghali. I'm advised by the United States Administration that will not happen; that they'll remain wedded to their position and will exercise their veto. We've made the point - this is the second point I'd make - we've always said that we have no objection to Boutros Boutros- Ghali, and that remains our position. And we haven't at this stage given any thought to a contingency plan in the event of the veto being exercised and there being no alternate way around the problem, except to choose someone else. We just

haven't addressed that yet, and obviously the Australian Government...Should that circumstance arise, we'll have to address that.

Question: However, you have chosen not to mention him or credit him for any of the reform process in the speech. Does that suggest that Australia is becoming lukewarm towards him?

Minister: No, I can absolutely assure you that Australia is playing a very low- key role in this issue, and that it is not a deliberate or subtle diplomatic strategy that he specifically shouldn't be mentioned.

Question: You talk about the need for the United States to pay it's debts, but you think that could realistically happen whilst Boutros Boutros- Ghali remains head of the United Nations?

Minister: Well, no, but that's asking me to make a comment about Boutros Boutros- Ghali over and above what I've said all ready. Do I think that the United States will pay their debts? Well, Boutros Boutros- Ghali, just to make this point, is the Secretary- General. And in his speech to the General Assembly last Tuesday, the President of the United States made it clear that he wanted the United States to pay its arrears and to fulfil its financial obligations to the United Nations. Over and above that, that's a question you'll have to raise with the United States Administration. My job isn't to be a commentator on what may or may not happen in American politics.

Question: But are you confident, though, that in the time that remains you can get a good candidate because tomorrow it's October and there is only two months left if Boutros Boutros- Ghali gets a veto?

Minister: Well, I don't want to say anything more than I have said, really. I've made the point. Okay.

Question: Can I ask about Cyprus? What Australia is planning to do about Cyprus?

Minister: Well, this is absolutely the last comment, because we have got to get going to a lunch. What I'd say about Cyprus is that we do want to play an active role in encouraging the United Nations to look for a negotiated settlement in Cyprus. We also believe that the United States can play a role, and we would hope, time permitting, once the elections are out of the way - that is, other issues permitting - the United States will be able to give some greater focus to the problems of Cyprus. And it is also a matter that I discussed the week before last with the Secretary- General of the Commonwealth, Chief Anyaoku, while I was in London, and I made it clear to him that I'd like the Commonwealth to co- ordinate its activities with the United Nations, but for the Commonwealth not to lose focus of the issue. So, we look, really, to - I know the United Nations has been working on this - but we look to the United Nations, perhaps, as supported more specifically by some of the member states, such as the United States, to take the issue forward during the course of next year. I really would like during 1997 for there to be some progress on the Cyprus issue, and the Australian Government will be encouraging that. Okay. Thank you.