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Press conference with the Polish Foreign Minister, Mr Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz.

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E and OE

5 March 2003

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer

Press Conference with the Polish Foreign Minister, Mr Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz

ALEXANDER DOWNER - FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER: Well, ladies and gentlemen. Can I just say how delighted I am to have with me today the Polish Foreign Minister. I made a visit to Poland just over a year ago and we got to know each other then and it was a most enjoyable and from our perspective certainly a very successful visit. And delighted to have the minister here. I don't think any of you need to be told, but Australia and Poland have obviously very long-standing links from our highest mountain being named after a patriotic Polish hero and named by a Polish explorer through to there being a big Polish ethnic community here in Australia and those people have been very prominent in Australian life. And so Australia is in one respect a partly Polish country. We've had an excellent discussion this morning focusing particularly on two issues. First of all on Poland's accession or upcoming accession to the European Union. I just want to say publicly how strongly Australia supports Poland's accession to the European Union. I think this will not only be enormously important to Poland's economic as well as its broader security, but it will enrich the European Union very substantially having a country like Poland as part of the union and we very much hope there'll be no further obstacles to Poland's accession to the European Union. We hope, of course, that as a member of the European Union and with a very large agricultural community, Poland will support the reform in time of the common agricultural policy. But looking at it from a broad geopolitical perspective, I think, Poland's membership of the European Union is going to be extremely important. Poland has a referendum coming up on the eighth of June. And I think foreigners telling the people of others what to do in referendums and elections is on the whole a very poor idea, but we will watch that referendum with great interest, and there clearly is a very good chance that the people of Poland will support accession to the European Union. And we hope there won't be any other difficulty.

Secondly, we've had a very good discussion about global security issues: I think you'd be aware that Australia and Poland have very similar positions on the issue of Iraq. Both of us share the view that Iraq must be disarmed, we obviously have a preference for that to be done peacefully. We are deeply concerned about, so far, the obstruction that there has been by the Iraqis to … in the work of the United Nations, and both us have been discussing the issue of a further security council resolution, and obviously, familiar with Australia's position on that.

And finally, we had a discussion about North Korea and our concerns about the situation there. But again let me say I'm delighted to have my Polish counterpart here. Your visit is very much appreciated by the Australian community. Poland is a country that is very much admired in Australia and I must say on some of the great local issues of the day, we particularly admire the strength and the courage of Poland's position.

WLODZIMIERZ CIMOSZEWICZ - POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you very much. I have come here to continue our conversation, last year's conversation: we are very satisfied with the quality and intensity of our political relations and dialogue. But of course what's going on in the world requires very constant continuation of contact, exchange of beliefs … beliefs, opinions and so on.

I also think that as far as our cooperation is concerned, two of our countries have good reason to be fully satisfied with the intensity and the level of those relations.

I believe that major foreign policy project of my country, which is the joining of the European Union, will make a change not only for us in Europe but also for our non European partners. Poland is becoming a part of a gigantic market. Poland is becoming, you know, a country which respects all of the (inaudible), so all of the European standards, the European legal solutions and so on.

So, thus it's becoming, I believe, more trustful, more reliable partner for foreign businesses. And with our very special position, also geographic position, I believe that we should be perceived not only as part of the enlarged European Union, but also as an excellent place to be present, to be active in, from the perspective of cooperating with our eastern neighbours, mainly Russia, but also Ukraine, and a lot of other countries of this part of the world.

I'm also, of course, very happy that I have an opportunity to meet my compatriots also here. That it's not a surprise because with almost twenty million Polish origin people living all around the world, outside of our country, I have this pleasure in every country that I'm visiting. We are very proud that Poles play a significant role in Australia and developing this country and building this country.

We are very glad that Australia also was such a hospitable country to Polish migrants especially those who decided to come here because they didn't come to our own country because of political reasons. There is no more such a situation in Poland and I hope that people will move between our countries either more frequently just because of having such an interest, because of deciding to learn, studying and so on. One of the issues that I believe we'll soon talk about is enhancing student exchange programs because, as I understand, there's growing interest not only in Europe, I believe obviously in Australia to study in other country and other continent.

DOWNER: Thank you very much. Well, if you have any questions.

REPORTER: Yesterday you were in the High Court … the High Court threw out that appeal by Tony Oates who's the former Bond Corporation director, who is now a Polish citizen. I'm wondering if there's an extra … appeal against extradition proceedings? I'm wondering now, what are the chances of successfully extraditing this Oates to face charges in Australia from Poland? Are you aware of that case?


DOWNER: … I wasn't aware of the High Court decision I'd have to say. But obviously we have been working on that. So, obviously we very much hope that it will be possible to extradite him. But in … look in the end that's a matter for the Attorney-General.

CIMOSZEWICZ: I understand now. Sorry that I was not aware of this case. I was informed

that both Supreme Court decided that it is possible to use Polish/Australian regulations or agreement on extradition as a base for further decision. But in our legal system I believe like here, it is the decision of the courts in every difficult case.

So, it is not up to the executives, it's up to the (indistinct) of justice. We have to wait for the decision of the court.

REPORTER: Would you care to comment on your attitude to Russia, France and Germany's approach to the Iraqi situation? I mean, Poland … and also you're said to be quite a good friend of President Bush, would you care to tell us about that friendship as well?

CIMOSZEWICZ: First of all, let me say that we are very satisfied to what is going on between Russia and such structures as NATO and the European Union. Russia being our neighbour is, of course, very important partner for us and we would like to have that going farther into democratisation and stabilising its democratic institutions and improving its political practice and developing its economies and so on. So, more than a positive cooperation between Russia and western partners is very positive from Polish point of view.

On the other hand that is true that it is a little bit surprising that for some NATO member states it became easier to find a common position on important security matters with non-member states rather than with allies within NATO. This is one of the problems being faced now by NATO and also within the European Union. That is true that the controversies, for instance, over Turkey's request guaranteeing necessary support for this ally state, this controversy's created a kind of risk that NATO maybe perceived as not fully reliable alliance. Fortunately we have overcome those differences and NATO reacted as it should. But, I am not doing to make secret of the fact that we have a lot of discussions within NATO as well as within the European Union and between some EU member states and at least some (indistinct) including Poland. This much different and bigger problem than just some approach to Iraqi case. It's about the quality and intensity of transatlantic relations. Poland is among those countries who believe that we need some good positive cooperation with the United States. That it is in the interest of whole Europe that this is in the interests of also of the United States. We don't believe in the philosophy of competing with America. Maybe just in economic terms yes, but not in politics, not in political relations. We believe in need to offer cooperation. We believe in need to look for compromises and so on. That causes some problems in Europe. That causes some problems because not necessarily everybody in Europe thinks this way. So, that is one of the challenges that we face. But European experience shows that with all of the controversies, with all of the all of the disputes, with the length, with delaying … achieving solutions and so on and so on, fortunately in most cases we finally manage to do that, and so I hope that after some time we'll get to the positive solution.

REPORTER: Mr Downer, a question on the Australian in custody in Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us, if you don't mind, what do Australians take from this about the Saudi justice system. What are they learning in that regard, in your view? Are you satisfied that all that could be done has been done? What help can you offer this person now in appealing for leniency?

DOWNER: Well, first of all, our embassy has been in constant touch with Mr Thomas … his name's Robert Thomas … has been in constant touch with him since he was arrested I think in around the middle of last year. And he was sentenced, I understand, in September of last year. We endeavoured to get him released under what's called a Ramadan amnesty. This amnesty, as the name suggests, takes place during Ramadan. So this was during the latter part of last year we made then a specific request to the Saudis to release him under that amnesty on the twenty-ninth of October. As is obvious, the Saudis did not grant amnesty.

Subsequently, we made representations asking for leniency in relation to the punishment; in particular in relation to what we think is very cruel and inhumane, and indeed importantly degrading punishment through him being in effect beaten. The application we made for leniency was clearly unsuccessful, and we made it clear to the Saudi Arabian authorities that … as of course we have on many occasions in years gone by, that we are opposed to this type of punishment. Now we are continuing our representations to the Saudi authorities, asking for him to be … still asking for him to be released. We obviously hope that that will be successful. He has an eighteen month sentence, so he's got a fair chunk of that sentence still to serve since he was convicted, I think I'm right in saying in September of last year.

In terms of the lashes or the beating that he has been subjected to, we're not entirely sure but we believe that that process is now complete. We're not a hundred per cent sure of that but we believe so. In any case our embassy has been in constant touch with him and have talked this whole issue through with him throughout the process.

QUESTION: (Inaudible - about his condition)

DOWNER: Well I think he's … in terms of the beatings, his response to that has been - well, the beatings didn't all take place at once but over a period of time - that whilst they were painful the real point was that they were profoundly degrading. And I think otherwise his condition is all right.

REPORTER: Mr Downer, what representations have been made (indistinct)?

DOWNER: It's been done by our embassy in Riyadh with the Saudi Arabian authorities over quite some period of time. Yes, you're right, they don't have an ambassador here at the moment.

REPORTER: … important enough to raise with the embassy here?

DOWNER: Well, I think we've raised it in an appropriate way. I don't think it would have made any difference. I think we've … remember that we've been working through this case with Mr Thomas over quite some months. This isn't something … I appreciate this is something that has burst into the media in the last day, but this isn't something that has come up in the last day. And I think in the circumstances we probably approached it in the way that was likely to be as effective as possible. Although, of course, as you know our representations weren't effective. Could have we done our representations in a different way? I think my answer to that question is that it wouldn't have made any difference.

REPORTER: Why haven't you called in the Saudi representatives here to give them formal reprimand over their treatment? Are we able to (indistinct) human rights in favour of our broader political objective in the Middle East?

DOWNER: No, not at all. I mean, we've raised this … we've … I'll explain the technical answer to that question. I think the way we've made representations is probably … I mean, these are always difficult questions of judgment. What we wanted to do here is to help Mr Thomas as best we can. You've got to be careful to get the balance right, not go over the top, and your representations be counter-productive, but not to ignore the issue. So the types of representations we've made we've made in … the embassy has made in consultation with Mr Thomas. I don't think there is probably another way of doing it, which would have been more effective than the way we've done it. I mean, this of course is not new in Saudi Arabia, this is

one of the traditional forms of punishment. They have a lot of other traditional forms of punishment that we wouldn't approve of. And so, no it's nothing to do with other … you know, the broader issue of our sales of automotives to Saudi Arabia or whatever it may be. We obviously have been concerned about the case of Mr Thomas and that's why we have been doing what we can for him and have been working with him in approaching this issue. It is important to make this point, that there has been fairly constant contact with him by the embassy in Riyadh.

REPORTER: (Indistinct) … activity on human rights. You've described the treatment as cruel, inhumane and degrading and it seems that he's being punished because the Saudi justice system can't conceive of a man not knowing that in fact whatever offence was committed was committed by his wife.

DOWNER: It appears that way.

REPORTER: What does that say to you about the Saudi justice system?

DOWNER: Well, we have had some experience, I've certainly in my time as a Foreign Minister had some experience, in dealing with the Saudi justice system. There've been a number of other cases that we've had there, some of them very high profile, particularly in the context of the murder of the Australian nurse in Saudi Arabia a few years ago. No, I think that, you know, the Saudi justice system does not operate in the way our justice system operates or the justice system of Poland or justice system of western civilisation. I think we're all familiar with that. It's a very harsh justice system, and in this particular case we understand that it was not Mr Thomas himself who was involved with the theft but that it was his wife. But this, of course, gets to the heart of how the, you know, the Muslim system within Saudi Arabia actually operates. It's of course a question of traditional Islamic law and that is not, of course, consistent with the way our legal system works.

REPORTER: Counterproductive; what do you mean by that?

DOWNER: Well, I'm just making the … I mean, that in a generic sense. I'm just making the point to you that you've got to get the balance right. If you excessively intervene in some circumstances then it becomes a question for the country your making representations to of national pride and honour, and in those circumstances they can often be very resistant. On the other hand you've got to weigh that particular consideration with helping the interests of the Australian. So in all of these circumstances we look at how best we think we can help. Now, are our judgments always right? One just doesn't know the answer to that question, an unanswerable question. My guess is that no matter how we made the representations in this case it wouldn't have made any difference.

REPORTER: Do you see any relationship between what the Saudis are doing to this bloke and the fact that those three people walked pretty free from the killing of the Saudi diplomat?

DOWNER: No, we have no evidence of that, no, and it's not been suggested to me by anybody.

REPORTER: What's your reaction to the bombing in the Philippines and do you think there's any link to the arrest of Mohammed?

DOWNER: We don't have any information that there are any links between those bombings

and the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but nevertheless we're obviously appalled at the bombings. It is in a part of the Philippines, though, where terrorists are active. If you look at our travel advisory it draws attention to the risks in that particular part of the Philippines and we just have been discouraging people from going there. Mindanao in the southern part of the Philippines where the MILS and Abu Sayyaf are extremely active. These are … I mean, I'd only make this point: that these are organisations, particularly Abu Sayyaf, that has very close links with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He has been in the Philippines, he has planned terrorist activities in the Philippines. Now, you know, we'll have to wait and see as time goes on what was behind these particular bombings but we wouldn't rule anything in or out at this stage.

[Inaudible question]

I have to check the travel warning for Mindanao but I'm advised that it turned out to be appropriate. So I don't think we're in the … look we … foreign ministers and foreign secretaries are always asking for us to downgrade our travel advisories, and I have to say in answer to that, we issue these travel advisories conscious of our overwhelming responsibility to the Australian people. We don't change the travel advisories for political purposes. And where it does cause some discomfort in bilateral relations it's our judgment that it's best we ride that discomfort in the interests of our primary responsibility of protecting the Australian people. We just have to do that. I had the Indonesian Tourism Minister here a couple of weeks ago. He made representations to me to downgrade our travel advisory for Bali. I said I'd have a look at the information which was educating our travel advisory at that time and in having … and I did, and when I looked at the information I decided we should keep the travel advisory just as it is. I know they, particularly in South East Asia, wanted us to downgrade our travel advisories. I understand that. And I can see where they're coming from, of course I can. But at the end of the day we do have an overwhelming responsibility to the Australian people and their security.

REPORTER: Minister Downer suggested that … he's rather expressed the hope that some time Poland would in time support reform of the common agricultural policy. What does Poland hope to gain for its agriculture from the common agricultural policy and would Poland have any interest at all in having a reform of such a … that particular policy.

CIMOSZEWICZ: Yes, it depends on the length of perspective we were talking about, because in short perspective terms, of course Polish farmers are interested in ensuring a lot of the privileges and profits coming out of Common Agricultural Policy. And that should be understood, of course, because they are becoming open for competition and they want to be guaranteed the same, or almost the same position as west European farmers share, you know, otherwise it may mean bankruptcy for many Polish food producers. But in longer perspective we have to understand that, first, the present CAP concept may become very soon too costly from the point of view of the budget of the Union, then that it is probably, … it has probably much more sense to use that kind of published report to develop those sectors where Europe probably represents already now a bigger potential and that … which creates better perspectives for the future of the European economy; like scientific research, developing new technologies and so on, rather than producing more and more grain or milk or butter. But that is, of course, still ahead us, not only Poland but in whole European Union. And let me also say that very openly that still being not a member of the European Union, still expecting for ratifications amongst fifteen states, we wouldn't like to put our fingers into the door and, you know, we'll express our official position, let's say, in the next fifteen months.

DOWNER: Can I just say … well, we've got to go, really, but I just wanted to say and to add

a little more to what I said about the Oakes case, but barely anything more. Apparently, I'm advised that the High Court hasn't given its decision … its reasons for its decision yet, so the Attorney-General is waiting to hear what the reasons are before anything further is said about it. But just to give the background to this, I remember talking about this case when I was in Poland over a year ago, but the Polish government made a decision to extradite into Australia in 2000, and he has appealed in the Polish courts against that extradition order from the Polish government. Of course the … presumably, the High Court case won't have any broad bearing on that, which is a matter which is still before the Gdansk District Court. It's obviously a question there of what that court decides and, to use a phrase the Attorney-General's department has passed on: it's not appropriate to comment on proceedings before that court.

REPORTER: What plans does Canberra have if war breaks out in Iraq, to evacuate Australian aid workers over there?

DOWNER: Well, there are very few Australian aid workers. We have given already consular advice for people to leave Iraq. People should leave Iraq. Our particular concern is that there are some people who have gone there for political reasons, as they describe themselves as human shields. These people should leave Iraq. They've made their political point. I'm sure, you know, everybody's noticed that. But they would be very unwise to stay in Iraq. It is possible to get out of Iraq now, and they should get out. Thanks very much.


ENDS………………………………………………………………………….5 March 2003