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Transcript of press conference: 3 October 2007: President Ahmadinejad; Burma; visit to Gray.



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: Wednesday, 3 October 2007

TITLE: Media conference - President Ahmadinejad, Burma, visit to Gray.

MR DOWNER: Let me just start by making a couple of points about the story on the front page of The Australian today where Mr Rudd said he’s going to take President Ahmadinejad to court. This just shows what an inexperienced leader Mr Rudd is. It would be a matter of enormous embarrassment for Australia if we had a Prime Minister who thought that he could go to a court, get President Ahmadinejad of Iran convicted, send in the Federal Police and have him put in jail at Long Bay. I mean, this is not serious. We have very serious issues to deal with Iran. Its defiance of the UN Security Council, of its nuclear programs, of its support for insurgents in Iraq and we think probably in Afghanistan as well, threatening the lives of Australian soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and the best the Leader of the Opposition can do is say that he’s going to take him to court, have him convicted, arrest him and throw him into Long Bay jail. This isn’t serious, this is embarrassing, this is a gaffe and it simply demonstrates that Mr Rudd is a very inexperienced leader and an enormous risk for this country if he were ever to become the Prime Minister.

Let me make one other point. In August - and I checked, it was on August 7th - the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court was in Canberra. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, he met with me, he met with Mr McClelland who is the Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs. Mr McClelland asked him, the prosecutor, if it was possible to take Iran, Zimbabwe and Burma to the International Criminal Courts to prosecute them and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said it was out of the

question. Now Labor apparently, at the level of their shadow minister, thinks that none of this is even possible, he’s been told that by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mr Ocampo who’s an Argentine, but Mr Rudd anyway decided that this is what he wants to do and it simply shows that he is an inexperienced leader who is a great risk to the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Is he not just trying to appeal to a certain constituency?

MR DOWNER: Well he whether he’s trying to appeal to, you know, the Jewish constituency or whatever it happens to be, you should always treat people with respect. I think in public life respect is a very important component of it and you should give people credit as well and what Mr Rudd is doing is treating people with contempt because he’s telling them something that he knows he can never deliver on. He’s trying to deceive people into believing that he is going to be able to get President Ahmadinejad of Iran arrested and thrown into Long

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Bay jail. I mean, get serious. That is just a stunt of the worst kind and he’s treating people with complete contempt suggesting that somehow the Prime Minister of Australia would be able to do that. Whatever we think of President Ahmadinejad we cannot send in the Federal

Police and arrest him and throw him into Long Bay jail. It’s not possible.

JOURNALIST: But what do you think of him? Do you think that there is actually…

MR DOWNER: Of President Ahmadinejad?

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)?

MR DOWNER: Well I think in President Ahmadinejad’s case, we should continue to do what we’re doing which is working with serious countries in the international community, with the United States, with the European Union, with the United Nations, with the Security Council, which is exactly what I was doing in New York last week - it was exactly what I

was doing. I met last week with the Foreign Minister of Iran. I spent quite a bit of time with him and I told him two things: one, that Iran should comply with the United Nations Security Council resolution in relation to its nuclear program and the Foreign Minister made it pretty clear to me that he was going to ignore the Security Council resolution. I told the Foreign Minister that I was very concerned about weapons being provided to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan that could threaten the lives of Australian troops and he seemed very dismissive of that concern as well. So my point is that the international community needs to work together in a number of different ways including through consideration of financial sanctions against Iran but step by step, to make sure that we gradually apply pressure. But I can tell you this, I can tell you this, that to suggest that we can somehow send in the Federal Police and arrest President Ahmadinejad and throw him in Long Bay jail, that’s just pathetic.

JOURNALIST: Just on that same topic though, the question I actually did ask was do you think there is case to answer, that the President actually does have some sort of case to answer - whether it is possible or not, do you think that that is something that (inaudible)?

MR DOWNER: Well if he has a case to answer, the court would have to have jurisdiction. The International Court of Justice doesn’t have jurisdiction over individuals, only over states and as far as the International Criminal Court is concerned, Iran is a party to the statute of the International Criminal Court so you would have to get the United Nations Security Council, including all five permanent members of the Security Council, to refer President Ahmadinejad to the International Criminal Court. Look, that clearly would not happen. Whether America, Britain and France would is one question but you can be absolutely certain that Russia and China wouldn’t even contemplate it. Why hold out the prospect to people here in Australia that you can do something that can’t be done? Why not level with people, why not be honest with them about what can and can’t be done, instead of engaging in these kind of stunts. It just shows how inexperienced Mr Rudd is and I think in the end, it would just be a real embarrassment to this country. People would just laugh at us.

JOURNALIST: Instead of engaging in the court system, what we could potentially see is America going into Iran like they did in Iraq?

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MR DOWNER: No, I don’t think America has any plans to do that. When they say they don’t rule out a military option, of course they don’t rule out any particular tactics, but the question that is obviously considered is what we will do if diplomacy fails? That’s obviously something they contemplate.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Australians have lost faith in the ability of America to lead the world?

MR DOWNER: I don’t think that they’ve lost faith in America. I think what the survey shows is that Australians value very much the American alliance and they value very much the close relations with America. It’s well known that their not overly enthusiastic about President Bush but we don’t choose the President of the United States. We have to work with whoever the President of the day may be and I always say this: our relationship with America, our close relationship with America, is in our interest - whatever the Americans think of it, and they think well of it, I guess - but it is in our interest. We would not have been able to achieve with regional neighbours the success we’ve achieved in the last few years on counter terrorism without the support and the close relationship we have with the United States. We would not be able to achieve what we’ve achieved in international economics without being able to leverage our relationship with the United States. So whatever people may think about the present incumbent, the President of the United States, well that’s fair enough. People can think what they like. But as a Government, we have to work with whoever the President of the United States is and if we can build a close relationship with the United States, then we can use that relationship to Australia’s advantage. One of the reasons this is such a great country is we’ve been able to use our relationship with the United States very much to our own advantage.

JOURNALIST: Is it time to reassess that relationship though?

MR DOWNER: Why would want to reduce the capacity of the Americans to help us fight terrorism in South-East Asia? Why would we want to reduce our capacity to influence the Americans to help us open up international markets for Australian exporters? There’s no virtue in it. There’s virtue in making sure we can use the relationship we have with America

to Australia’s advantage. There is no virtue in downgrading it as Mr Rudd wants to do. Mr Rudd, his weasel words, he says one thing one day and another thing another, but the truth is Mr Rudd thinks we should downgrade our relationship with the United States. Well the trouble with that is we couldn’t use the relationship to advance our own interests in South-East Asia, in North Asia and of course in international economics if we downgraded the relationship with the United States, just for some party political purpose. But Mr Rudd is too inexperienced, too inexperienced to be put in charge of Australian foreign policy.

JOURNALIST: Does this decline in attitudes pose any (inaudible)?

MR DOWNER: I don’t think there has been a change. Look, to be honest with you, I think there was a survey done by the Lowy Institute about a month ago. I’m not quite sure why this new institute thinks it’s necessary to do one a month later which shows exactly the same thing. I mean, it’s a survey and it depends what questions you ask and all of that. But in the end, I think, by the way, Australians do understand that we can use our close relationship

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with the United States to Australia’s advantage and that’s the sensible thing to do, not to downgrade our relationship with the United States because people have some reservations about the present President. Well, there’ll be another President in, whatever it is, just over a year’s time, I suppose - 15 months time - and what happens if they don’t like that President either? It doesn’t matter. We have to work with the President whether we like them or whether we don’t, as a community and we can use that relationship very much to the advantage of our country. How are we going to achieve international agreement on climate change when we’re just going to kick sand into the eyes of a country which generates about a quarter of all the world’s CO2 emissions, the United States. It makes good sense for us to have a close relationship with the Americans so we can work with the Americans to reduce CO2 emissions. Mr Rudd says he cares, apparently, about climate change, though not so much he thought it was worth raising with President Bush when he spent 45 minutes with him. Well I’ll tell you, when we spend time with President Bush we talk climate change, we talk terrorism, we talk about the big issues that need to be addressed by Australia and by the international community. We use our close relationship with President Bush to Australia’s advantage. Mr Rudd doesn’t even bother to raise climate change with President Bush. What a phoney.

JOURNALIST: Just on the situation (inaudible) earlier (inaudible), where you’ve got the diplomatic solutions around the problems by Iran and its attitude to (inaudible) countries and the US, has Australia heard out, if you like, American authorities on the potential for a military solution there?

MR DOWNER: Look America has always said they just keep their options open. So it’s standard operating procedure for the United States and it has been for decades, that they never rule out military options. But the Americans are going down the diplomatic path. They are trying to get Iran to comply with Security Council resolution. There is a process whereby the United States, particularly led by the Europeans, where the British and the French and the Germans are talking with the Iranians about complying with Security Council resolutions on their nuclear program. As you know, the Americans have taken financial measures against Iran to put increased pressure on them. So that’s the track the Americans are going down. It’s just that they never rule out the military option and this gets reported every so often. I mean that’s understandable that a country like the United States would never rule in or rule out military options. But I don’t think they’re planning an immediate strike on Iran.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) contribute to any talks with US regarding surgical strikes?

MR DOWNER: Not really. I mean I’ve talked to them in general terms. I haven’t had a briefing on how they would conduct surgical strikes, if that’s what you mean. But look, I’ve obviously had many conversations with the Americans about their Iranian strategy and they just made the point that I’ve made, that they never rule in or rule out military action. But that is standard operating procedure for the United States.

JOURNALIST: Just in relation to Burma, the talks with the UN envoy seemed a little hopeful yesterday but no major (inaudible). What’s your take on the situation?

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MR DOWNER: Well I haven’t had a full read out of Mr Gambari’s meetings with Than Shwe and other leaders and it’ll take us a little time to get a full read out. I would also, even once I’ve had a read out from New York, from our mission in New York which Mr Gambari will clearly be reporting back to New York, he’s the UN Special Representative - I’d let him describe his impression of his meetings with Than Shwe and how he feels he’s gone. But I

said before and sadly, I think this is going to be very, very hard to persuade this brutal military regime to grant any concession. But what they should do is sit down with the national lead for democracy and with Aung San Suu Kyi and start negotiating a path back to democracy. That’s what they should do.

JOURNALIST: What contingencies are you considering in the event that this diplomatic approach fails?

MR DOWNER: Well let’s wait and see. I think as an Asia-Pacific region, we need to be very alert to this issue and we’ll have a think about things we might be able to do over and above what we’re already doing, once we’ve heard out Mr Gambari. We can’t make any decisions until we’ve heard what he’s had to say.

JOURNALIST: You’re off to Port Pirie tomorrow I understand?

MR DOWNER: Port Pirie, indeed.

JOURNALIST: Are you trying to talk Barry Wakelin out of retirement?

MR DOWNER: No. I’m just going there to support Rowan Ramsey and the Liberal campaign and I’m going to make this point when I’m in Port Pirie: do we really, when Australia is doing so well, both economically and in terms of our international standing, do we really want to hand this country over to an inexperienced leader, who has 70 per cent of his frontbench as former union officials? I don’t think, in the end, we want every single government in Australia - from the ACT Government to the Federal Government - to be a Labor government, dominated by trade union officials and that there is all there would be in Australian government, and around the whole of the country. In the end, I don’t think people will go for that - people in Gray and people generally in Australia.

JOURNALIST: You’re just campaigning ahead of the fact though, aren’t you? Does Rowan Ramsey’s campaign (inaudible) at the moment?

MR DOWNER: No. I go, I went to Gray for the last election I remember and in fact I’ve been to Gray in the last year I went and did something for Barry Wakelin. I’ll tell you when it was, it was in November last year. So I’m the senior South Australian Federal Member and I

go around all of the electorates - I go to Barker and I do masses of things in Mayo, but other electorates and certainly Gray is one of them.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you’re renowned for your sense of humour so I’m (inaudible)…

MR DOWNER: No, I’m actually not renowned for it.

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JOURNALIST: The Government, as you know, has been pursuing new technologies in terms of getting its message out there and you have the extraordinary honour of a Facebook sight named after you - Alexander Downer’s made entirely of pudding - I’m curious to know whether you’ve come across it yet?

MR DOWNER: I’m sure I have. My kids are always searching these sites and it has been drawn to my attention, yes. What do I think of it? Well, the Left need to argue their case on the basis of the policy merits and they don’t like to. They think that just personal abuse and ridicule and that’s a good enough argument. I reckon it’s not. I don’t reckon in the end the Australian people buy that sort of politics. I think what the Australian people like is substance and good policy and not stunts. But Mr Rudd endorses all of these sorts of sites - fake sites, smears, personal abuse - he loves all that stuff.

JOURNALIST: You’re not reading the fact that maybe you’re just extremely tasty?

MR DOWNER: Well, I don’t think I’ll comment on that actually because what I was going to say wouldn’t be good.

[Ends]