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Transcript: Howard In Japan

6 July 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

PRESS CONFERENCE

AKASAKA STATE GUEST HOUSE

TOKYO, JAPAN

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a pleasant surprise. It's good to see you all. Are you all well? Did you all travel well? That's very good. Now, what would you like to ask me? I am here to answer any questions you want to ask me. As you know I'll be delivering a speech at lunchtime to a business gathering and then I'll be meeting the Foreign Minister and then the Prime Minister and then the dinner tonight and after this press conference I will be seeing my good friend Mr Hashimoto, the former Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST:

Will you be raising the case of Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace with Prime Minister Obuchi?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I'll mention it at every point of my overseas visit. I'll mention it to the Japanese Prime Minister, I'll also mention it Mr Hashimoto who has been trying behind the scenes and I'll certainly raise it with President Clinton. Can I say in relation to this issue that it's one of those difficult matters where sometimes the less said the better. Can I assure you and assure the Australian people the Government is doing everything it humanly can to bring about these men's release. It's a very difficult situation. I think everybody understands that in order to secure their release we have to have the goodwill of Slobodan Milosevic. It's as simple as that. Now, I think having said that people should understand that the prospects of securing that release do not automatically go upwards with the volume of public rhetoric on the subject so please we must all understand that the end game is not any political point scoring along the way. The end game is to get the two men reunited with their families and that's what I am on about.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, do you believe that if you went to Belgrade personally that would help?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Mr Beazley has suggested that. Look, I will do everything that on the best advice I have is most calculated to secure their release. And I am not going to rule anything in or out. But it's easy to, sort of, for anybody not in my position to say something on the run and get a headline. But at the end of the day getting them out is the best thing and I had the opportunity over the weekend to have a very lengthy discussion with the Australian Ambassador in Belgrade, Chris Lamb. I saw him within six hours of his return to Australia for a briefing session. I saw him on Saturday, we talked about the matter extensively. I am satisfied both on the basis of his direct advice to me and on the basis of the advice I am receiving from the Department of Foreign Affairs that Mr Downer has handled the thing correctly, he's handled the thing with great commitment and skill. And as I say sometimes the less said the better.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, how concerned are you about the recognition of Papua New Guinea, of Taiwan and will you be discussing that today?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't think I'll be discussing it today. I don't think it's something that automatically comes within the operation of the sphere of our relationship.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]…Pratt and Wallace. Are you saying that if you thought it would help to go to Belgrade you would?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, what I am saying is that whatever is necessary to be done to promote their releases by anybody that will be done. But I don't think you should take that as necessarily answering your question. Glenn, I really am asking that people understand that it's a very difficult situation, playing it like an ordinary political issue is not the right thing to do. And that plea is made to the Opposition, it's made to the media. I think by and large the media has handled this thing very carefully and it's just made to everybody. I just want to get the two of them out but in order to get them out you have got to get on the right side of Slobodan Milosevic.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, would it help or hinder the two aid workers if you went to Belgrade at this stage?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not going to answer that question.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you'll be discussing Indonesia today, there was another attack on UN people in Timor yesterday. How concerned are you about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, very concerned. And we have put some very strong views and we will be putting in other ways those views again to the Indonesian Government. It's difficult. I am disappointed about what has happened and I would say to the Indonesian Government that it's own credibility in relation to the handling of this issue is very much in the international spotlight.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]…seriously enough Mr Howard? Are you getting adequate responses to representations the Government is taking?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, whilever things that happened last night happen I guess that's the only thing you can measure the response by. I mean, what matters is what happens on the ground rather than the words that are uttered in response to representations. But our Ambassador was in Dili yesterday, I think, and the…Mr Downer spoke to Mr Marker in Canberra yesterday and certainly everybody is going to be putting their views very strongly to the Indonesian Government.

JOURNALIST:

Is the situation worrying enough for you to call the President, the Indonesian President?

PRIME MINISTER:

The problem with these situations is that you are asked because you need to ask me something. When are you going to write the next letter or make the next phone call? And sometimes the right time to write the letter or make the phone call is not necessarily the time you are asked whether you are going to do it. But if you don't say yes it's then suggested you are not doing enough. I mean, I can't give you any other answer to that. Look, once again if, whatever is needed to maximise the communication of our concern that will be done.

JOURNALIST:

You will be discussing with Prime Minister Obuchi today the idea of the investment conference that Australia is to organise for Indonesia. Do you expect also to discuss with the Prime Minister how you could perhaps exercise more pressure on President Habibie over Timor?


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