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Interview With Howard on Washington Visit


12 July 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH FRAN KELLY AM PROGRAMME, ABC RADIO

E&OE………………………………………………………………………….……….

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, how do you rate your meeting with President Clinton today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh it was very good because I was able to tell him very directly in a private discussion and then more briefly in the working lunch how disappointed Australia was about the lamb decision. I told him that of all the recent trade issues, this had caused more upset and concern in Australia than any other. That although we feared about outcome, we were particularly upset about the imposition of the tariff on the in quota portion. I said that we would pursue all of our remedies at the World Trade Organisation. That we would provide compensation for our lamb producers and that we wanted American understanding and cooperation in the transition to the imposition of the tariff particularly in relation to lamb that was contracted for sale before the announcement was made that will be landed in the United States after the new tariff comes in and he agreed that our officials could work together to sort that out.

JOURNALIST:

Now, when this news first broke you put out a very strong statement, spoke very strongly, using words like appalling, unjust, hypocritical. How strongly did you convey those feelings, the feelings of Australian lamb producers in today’s meeting?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t think I could have put it any more firmly than I did today both in the private discussion and in the working lunch. I mean, they were left in no doubt that this had upset us more than any other trade decision in recent memory. And that’s what I said publicly and that’s what I said privately.

JOURNALIST:

Did you make the point that it undercuts, undermines the US’s position internationally as a free trader and anything it has to say in the upcoming APEC and WTO round on free trade?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. I said that this would be seized upon by others who were less committed to open trade. I should say that in a sense his response to that was, well I am very committed to a successful world trade round. He is coming to the APEC in New Zealand, he has told me that. He agreed with me that we should work together to secure a Leaders’ Declaration in relation to the World Trade Organisation in favour of a very comprehensive new world trade round. So that was his response. As I indicated at the news comment I made after the meeting it’s outcomes that matter, not fine words. I don’t mean that critically of the President it’s just an important observation to make.

JOURNALIST:

Well, just on that rule of thumb, outcomes versus rhetoric. I mean, you’d have to say the signals recently from the US with this lamb decision where we have a real outcome are not positive?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no. I mean, of course. And that was the reason why the meeting was, in a sense, it wasn’t dominated by the lamb issue but it was certainly the first issue I raised. In a sense, the meeting started on lamb and it finished on lamb.

JOURNALIST:

You said that in the phone conversation with the President recently he had indicated to you his concern about increasing tide of protectionism in his country, the USA. Was there any of that sentiment expressed in this meeting today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there was some. We didn’t dwell on that. I think both of us recognise that trade protectionism is a latent but nonetheless powerful element in both our societies.

JOURNALIST:

I suppose what I am getting at, did he show any sign of regret or apology privately?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, he understood why we were upset and he didn’t seek to say that I was exaggerating it or he didn’t seek to suggest that we had no grounds to be upset. I mean, he has taken a political decision, he’s taken into account domestic political circumstances and he has decided to wear the international criticism. Now, that’s his judgement as a political leader in his country. I don’t agree with it and I am expressing a view on behalf of Australia and Australians. But in the end, we can’t reverse the decision it is now American law. And there is nothing we can do about it, there never was. Once the decision was made that was it.

JOURNALIST:

He said today in some comments on the record that he didn’t expect this trade decision to sour the relationship with Australia. But it must have some impact generally and presumably over the atmospherics of today’s meeting?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it won’t contaminate the rest of the relationship. I have made that clear all along and it shouldn’t because it means more than what happens on one particular issue. But it has caused a lot of anger in Australia and he was left in no doubt about that, that it has caused a lot of anger. I don’t know how many more times or different ways I can say that this has caused more anger than any American trade decision in living memory. Now, I can’t put it any more strongly. That actually means a lot more than more flamboyant words because that really does accurately measure the concern that Australians feel. But there are other dimensions to the relationship and it never makes any sense to spread it, to contaminate the whole of the relationship because of a very bad decision in one area.

JOURNALIST:

On another issue, any commitment from the United States today to assist with lobbying for the release of Pratt and Wallace?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I raised that again. I raised it last night with Madeleine Albright. We had quite a long talk about their position. I raised it again with the President over the working lunch and he and the Secretary of State said they would continue to do what they could to secure the release of the two aid workers.

JOURNALIST:

I had a brief word with Madeleine Albright too last night about this and she said she’d raised it with EU foreign ministers just last week but she also seemed to be bereft of any, well as she was owning up to, any real strategies to be able to move this on much. Did you get any sense from the President that the US had any real push here or real capacity to do much here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Fran, the strategy lies in finding a way to persuade Slobodan Milosevic to exercise his executive power and let them out. Now, there is no one fixed way you achieve that and it’s very hard for the Secretary of State or the President to say well this is exactly how we intend to do it. I mean, bear in mind that it was only a few weeks ago that the United States was bombing Yugoslavia. So it’s a delicate situation.

JOURNALIST:

Just on that, given that it was only a few weeks ago the US was involved in the bombing, are they in a better position post the cease fire to have some influence here because they have some control presumably over monies or some influence over monies that go into the reconstruction, or are they so out of favour that a word from them is going to be a hindrance not a help?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t think a word from anybody is a hindrance. I think the more pressure you apply, the more people who speak up for you the better chance you have. My judgement would be that now the bombing has stopped it’s better.

JOURNALIST:

You also raised East Timor and Indonesia during these talks. Will the US, or did you ask the US to come in with Australia to put increased pressure on the Indonesian Government to try and make sure the militia violence that is going on in East Timor stops?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we have been doing that all along. And everybody I talk to I make the point that it’s important that the Indonesian Government be encouraged to ensure that you have benign, not intimidatory conditions in East Timor so that we get a clean ballot and one that allows a free and open choice.

JOURNALIST:

And so did the US say they would come in on this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the US has been doing it and the US will continue to do it. And I know for a fact that senior people in the administration in the last week have been putting their views very strongly to the Indonesian Government on this issue.

JOURNALIST:

I understand the US was also interested in your perspective as Prime Minister of Australia on the situation in Indonesia generally. How much of the discussion was taken up with Indonesia and their political cycle and their economic cycle? PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, a very large part of it. I think it’s fair to say that we spent more time talking about Indonesia than just about any other issue except…I mean, lamb very closely rivalled it but that was really the main issue of our private discussion. But in the plenary session we talked a great deal about Indonesia and the Americans are interested in our perspective. I think what the Indonesians have done in embracing democracy is an historic shift and the Indonesian Government and Dr Habibie deserve a bit more credit and understanding for that than what they are getting.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, obviously this meeting with President Clinton is the highlight, certainly of the US leg of this trip yet one-on-one you have 20 minutes alone with the President. How much can be done and achieved in a short time like that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I think that’s a completely wrong way to describe the encounter. He and I had a one-on-one meeting of 20 minutes but then we had, what, an hour and a quarter at lunch with his senior people and my senior people. So for what it’s worth you add all of that together and you are looking at the best part of two hours. I think it is very valuable given the demands on the time of the President of the United States. I mean, a lot of encounters between heads of government around the world don’t involve any one-on-one bits without advisers so I don’t think it’s in any way accurate or reasonable to categorise it the way you have.

JOURNALIST:

So you are happy with the value of this part of the trip?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you have a two hour meeting essentially. The best part of the two hour discussion with the President you are able to express concerns in a very direct and open and candid fashion because it is a friendly relationship. You can talk more bluntly to friends than you often can to acquaintances. We all know that in our own experiences and that’s basically what I was able to do today. I said to him in the private discussion because our two countries are old friends I can say to you how upset we are about what you have done on lamb. Now, I couldn’t quite put it that way with some other people. And then following that we have a plenary session, as I call it, with the, you have got the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury and other senior people in his administration, his national security adviser. And I have got my key people. I don’t think you can get better value. I mean, he can’t spend the whole day. I’m seeing his Treasury Secretary and his drugs czar and so forth, his anti-drugs czar later today . So I think it has been a very useful gathering.

JOURNALIST:

It was a pretty high powered guest list at last night’s barbeque. Were your flattered by the attendance list?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s appropriate, we are a very close friend of the United States. We’ve been a very dependable ally. It was nice to see all of those people but the Americans owe us a lot. We’ve stuck by the Americans over the years through some very difficult situations and we have a lot of values in common. JOURNALIST-:

Just one final question, I should ask you about Kakadu. There was a consensus decision in Paris overnight in favour of not listing Kakadu on the endangered list. How did Australia get out of jail on that issue given that at the beginning of this week your Environment Minister’s Office was saying that Australia wasn’t expecting to win that decision?

PRIME MINISTER:

Fran, we were never remotely guilty of an indictable offence. So there was never any question of us being in jail. We’d done the right thing and common sense prevailed I am pleased to say. I had concerns because sometimes in these matters common sense does not prevail. The law has been very carefully observed in Australia. The environment has been paid sensitive regard. I am delighted at the outcome. I would have been angered if it had gone otherwise because we have done the right thing. And in the end these things should be determined by Australians according to Australian law.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, thank you.

[ends]

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