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Transcript of a doorstop interview: Washington: 9 January 2006: [Asia-Pacific partnership on climate change].

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DATE: 9 January 2006

TITLE: Doorstop Interview, State Department, Washington DC

QUESTION: Can you tell us what you spoke about?

DOWNER: Well, we obviously had a talk about the Asia-Pacific partnership on climate change and Secretary Rice is of course disappointed she can’t go because of the situation in the Middle East. But I think both the United States and Australia very strongly agree that this partnership is going to be a great way of starting to take forward plans to address climate change which are practical and are going to achieve real results.

QUESTION: Does that include providing … million dollars to nations like China to lead technology?

DOWNER: Well, we’re not talking at this stage about the amounts of money. That will be announced later on. Both the United States and Australia will provide financial support for initiatives which will be announced in the meeting. We’ll be setting up a series of working groups, and for these working groups to operate they’ll obviously require some financial support and incentive. So, all of that will be revealed on Thursday.

QUESTION: Did you discuss the situation in Iraq?

DOWNER: We had a good discussion about…is that the same question?

QUESTION: Iran and Iraq.

DOWNER: We didn’t talk about Iran. We had a good discussion about Iraq. I made it perfectly clear to Secretary Rice that Australia shares America’s and Britain’s view, which is that we should reduce our forces in Iraq in a responsible way and only at a time when the Iraqi security forces are able to maintain control over the security situation there.

QUESTION: Mr Beazley is saying that Australia should get out now…

DOWNER: I read what Mr Beazley said. If Australia, the United States and Britain all just pulled out of Iraq now we would leave the country to Al Zarqawi and the terrorists, and that would be a catastrophe for the Iraqi people who have recently voted in millions for a new government.

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QUESTION: His position is that coalition forces are a magnet for insurgents.

DOWNER: The fact is if you want the terrorists to take over Iraq then the quickest way to do that is to walk out of Iraq. If we all just walked out of Iraq, I mean, he suggests that the United States, Britain and Australia should all just walk out of Iraq. If we were all to just walk out of Iraq now, we would leave the country in the hands of the insurgents and the terrorists. That is the last thing that the people of Iraq want us to do.

QUESTION: There was a poll, I think it was last week, showing that there was declining support in Australia for what is like two thirds of the people …

DOWNER: I don’t think Australians support us just abandoning the people of Iraq so soon after an election and allowing the country to be taken over by terrorists and insurgents. Australians may or may not think it was a mistake to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the first place. Look, people have different views about that.

QUESTION: Did you specifically talk about Mr Beazley’s remarks to Secretary Rice?

DOWNER: Well, that wasn’t so much the focus of the conversation. The conversation focused much more on the broad principle of…

QUESTION: Have you specifically reassured her that you actually (inaudible)?

DOWNER: Well, that doesn’t matter about Mr Beazley’s opinions. At this stage of the political cycle, he’s not going to be the Prime Minister at least for the next two years. He may be then, but who knows.

QUESTION: Did you talk about Mr Sharon in Israel and his health? (inaudible)

DOWNER: Well, only very briefly. Of course, the health of Ariel Sharon is a matter for the doctors and neither of us have anything particular to offer in that respect.

QUESTION: Did you ask for or receive any assurances about David Hicks?

DOWNER: No, I discussed the David Hicks case with Secretary Rumsfeld when he was in Australia recently. And as far as the Hicks case is concerned at the moment, he is applying for British citizenship. He is endeavouring to become British, and that’s a matter which has now gone to the British Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal will make a decision on that and if he becomes a British citizen then I’m sure the British will have their own considerations about what to do.

QUESTION: Any indication of when they might appoint the new ambassador…?

DOWNER: We would like them to appoint an ambassador as soon as possible, but obviously there have been some, how can I put it, there have been some difficulties that they have encountered in relation to potential appointments, which are really not for us. That’s a matter

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for them. That would be very undiplomatic for me to start to canvas the issues. That’s a matter for the Americans.

QUESTION: It’s been a year now…

DOWNER: They’ve had some difficulties. It’s not that they have been negligent in their duties.

QUESTION: Have they resolved those difficulties yet?

DOWNER: I don’t think they have quite, no.

QUESTION: Are you concerned in Iraq the insurgency is getting stronger and there has been an increase in violence … ?

DOWNER: There has, yes, and obviously I’m concerned about that. There has been an upturn in violence. I was there about two and a half weeks ago, straight after the election, and I thought the situation looked, in terms of the security situation, it looked a bit better. But, I’m

a bit concerned about that. On the other hand, we don’t want to play into the hands of the insurgents and the terrorists and every time there’s an upsurge in the violence respond by saying ‘gosh, we ought to get out of here’, which is the Beazley approach. Mr Beazley has just been watching this on television and has decided well, you know, the thing that Britain and America and Australia should do is get out of Iraq. We would like to get out of Iraq as soon as we think it is responsible to do so, and we will. But it is not responsible to get out of Iraq and leave the country in the hand of terrorists and insurgents at the expense of the millions upon millions of people who braved the threats of terrorists and went out to vote in December.

QUESTION: Can you confirm reports that Australia is sending more troops to Afghanistan?

DOWNER: Well, we’re considering it. I’ll be in the Netherlands at the end of this month and I’ll have an opportunity to talk to the Dutch government then about their plans. But one of the plans that we’re looking at is Australia participating with the Netherlands in a provincial

reconstruction team in Afghanistan. We’ve got special forces there at the moment, about 200 special forces.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

DOWNER: But they’re not special forces. No, they’re there for what we will expect to be a year, and I think that year will be up in about September. But what we’re looking at is sending in, I’m not sure of the numbers, but somewhere in the vicinity of 400 troops as part of a

provincial reconstruction team working with the Dutch. That’s something we’re considering. No final decisions yet.