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Transcript of joint press conference: Palacio Das Cinzas, East Timor: 26 July 2007: bilateral relations.



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PRIME MINISTER

26 July 2007

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH HIS EXCELLENCY DR JOSE RAMOS-HORTA, PRESIDENT OF EAST TIMOR,

PALACIO DAS CINZAS, EAST TIMOR

Subjects: Bilateral relations.

EO&E…………………………………………………………………………………

PRESIDENT:

I and the country we are all very pleased with the visit of Prime Minister John Howard, national friend of mine who has shown tremendous commitment to this country and establishing that in the future this country, Australia (inaudible) will remember that one of his greatest legacies in his lifetime, in his political career is the decision he made in ’99 with the rest of the countries in the region to lead the INTERFET. This was one of the greatest contributions that Australia has made to this country, in the darkest moments of our history in ’99, John Howard and the Australian people made the decision: a risky one, complex, sensitive. So I want to congratulate and today during the discussion with the Prime Minister I asked that the Australian forces, New Zealand, ISF should proceed to stay here into end of 2008. We can review it for the end of the year and then upsize number. As you all know, Australian forces with New Zealand are here under our Government’s invitation. We support the President as well as the parliament and in agreement with (inaudible) our unique agreement, this bilateral arrangement whereby the Australian forces, the New Zealand are not under the UN command but there is excellent co-operation and has served the UN very well, has served us very well.

A few months ago there was a lot of scepticism and criticism about these arrangements. Well today in New York and elsewhere they’re all very impressed with how effective these arrangements have been. So this will continue, it will continue and I thank the Prime Minister for taking time to come today to Timor Leste from his

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very busy schedule in Australia and we are very grateful for ISF to be here. They have done a superb job, excellent relationship with the people, with the leadership of this country and we also very grateful for Australia’s general support over the years, his support Prime Minister (inaudible) will continue in the years to come.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thank you very much Mr President it’s a great delight to be back here again. I’ve had the opportunity to personally congratulate you on your election as President. We had previously been in touch after the presidential election. I’ve been able to tell the President again of the ongoing affection, support and interest of the Government and the people of Australia in the future of East Timor. East Timor has a special place in

the hearts of many Australians and we are very proud of the role that we have played at the invitation of the people of your country to help stabilise the security position, we’re very grateful for the skill and professionalism of the men and women of our armed forces and of our police and also the very important civilian contribution made through our Embassy and our aid agencies, because together the Australian presence, at the invitation of East Timor and with the sanction and approval of the United Nations has helped reduce very significantly the violence and unrest that was evident last year. I know that I’ve come to your country, sir, at a time of where the political

process is working its way through and that of course is a matter for the constitutional processes of your country. We’ve had a good discussion. I’ve taken note of the request you’ve made about the presence of the ISF and therefore of the Australians, that is a matter that the Australian Government has under continuing consideration. We will not turn our backs on the people of East Timor but as I know you appreciate the goal is always one of self-sufficiency and self-capacity and that the presence of our men and women and the presence of the men and women of other countries is all about enabling the arrival of the day when the presence of foreign forces and foreign police is not needed. But we’ve had, as always, a very, very good discussion and I thank you most warmly for your hospitality and I hope that when the constitutional processes of your office are less pressing you can once again visit our country as the President of the Republic of East Timor. Would you like to ask a couple of questions?

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard you are another year older today, how does it feel to….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it feels exactly the same. I think I was here in July of last year and he doesn’t look any different, he looks as sparkling as ever.

JOURNALIST:

…Labor wants to make your age an election issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look I don’t think I want to talk about the Australian political climate in another country but I think the Australian people make judgements about the contributions

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that people make and when…..seeing you’ve asked me the question, I’ll say this, I think if that is the only argument the Australian Labor Party has for the Government’s removal it rather validates my belief that Mr Rudd doesn’t have his own plan for the future of Australia, the either copies the Government or does what the unions tell him.

JOURNALIST:

Sir did you discuss the report about the future of Timor Leste armed forces, the 2020 report?

PRIME MINISTER:

We talked generally about security issues.

JOURNALIST:

Do you share the outrage of your Foreign Minister about that report?

PRIME MINISTER:

I share most of the views of my Foreign Minister, including that one.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have a preference for who should become part of the government, who becomes Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Really that’s a matter for the people of East Timor. I would not presume for a moment to give advice in my capacity as Prime Minister to the President of this country, that is a matter for the President and a matter for the political process of this country. We are here at the invitation of the people of East Timor. We respect the sovereignty of East Timor and we do not intend to abuse in any way our position by taking it upon ourselves to give public advice to the leadership of this country as to how to handle the democratic process. I’m interested in it and Jose and I talked about it but I am not into the business of giving formal advice to him about these things.

JOURNALIST:

What’s your understanding as to who the most likely Prime Minister…

PRIME MINISTER:

Look that is a matter you should take up with the East Timorese President. I am not going to give commentary on that.

PRESIDENT:

You see they all like you more than me because they’re not asking me any questions?

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JOURNALIST:

President what will be your decision on the make-up of the Government?

PRESIDENT:

I continue the consultations in the next few days and now I think two weeks, it has been a very intense and productive exercise but no later than Wednesday next week, August 1st, I, as President, will make my decision about which party, or parties we invite to form the government based on the provision of the constitution. I have no favourite, I will be always strictly adhering to the constitution, my consultations with the parties in the parliament and in my conscience about what is the best for peace, stability, good governance in this country.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Prime Minister, any intelligence about (inaudible) troop levels.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I don’t want to speculate about troop levels. We will stay here for so long as we are asked to stay and it’s in the best interests of the people of East Timor that we stay and obviously with the authority of the United Nations. As to when that point is reached, when it is no longer in the interests of the country that we stay, and we’ve always made it very clear that it cannot be assumed that we will stay indefinitely, that’s not the purpose of our involvement, the purpose of our involvement is to stabilise the situation and when it’s fully stabilised and we are satisfied that it will remain stable, that is the time to contemplate withdrawal. Now as to particular troop levels between now and when that point is reached well that is an operational matter that I would ultimately be advised on by the Chief of our Defence Force and the local commander. There will be a point when it is not in the interests of East Timor that foreign forces remain and we want the people and the Government of East Timor to understand that that is our view, but we don’t want to leave prematurely because when you’ve had some kind of military involvement in a country, no matter what the history, if you leave before the local security forces can maintain the peace you end up having, in a sense, gone there in vain in the first place.

JOURNALIST:

So are the ASF prepared to…ready to (inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think that is an operational matter that I will leave the ISF to comment on. I think we’ve had enough questions, don’t you Jose?

PRESIDENT:

Thank you.

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PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

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