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Trans Tasman PMs' Press Conference Transcript 10.3

10 March 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER
THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP
JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH
NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER HELEN CLARK
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

Subjects: visit to New Zealand; Bali; Iraq; terrorism

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………


PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

We’ve just come from a one hour meeting of the New Zealand Cabinet with Prime Minister John Howard and it’s been an opportunity for Cabinet Ministers to hear some of John’s views about a range of the issues we discussed yesterday and also for Ministers to make a little more detail on some of the issues. Michael Cullen had an exchange with John on the respective state of the two economies and the outlook for the international economy. Jim Anderton raised the issue of really the quite striking similarity of approach between the New Zealand and Australian innovation strategies for growth and the potential to liaise closely on those added value strategies for the two economies. Steve Maharey talked on the social security agreement which we’re very pleased with, clearly more New Zealanders are staying home and that’s a good thing, also questioned of course by the fact that since we came into government, unemployment is down from 7.4 to 4.9 and NZ doesn't look too bad a place to be at the moment. Annette King and John had an exchange on the virtually finalised joint therapeutics agency between the two countries. Lianne Dalziel ran over again New Zealand’s interests in the rules of origin review being undertaken by the Australian Productivity Commission and our desire to make a submissions to that shortly. And then we finished off around the last quarter of the meeting with a good discussion of the international scene, on Iraq, of course on Australia’s impending free trade negotiations with the United States and a bit of a look around the region from Indonesia to the South Pacific covering again some of the counter-terrorism issues we’re going to endeavour to advance at the Pacific Islands Forum.

So I’ll pass you over to John for a few minutes.

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well thank you, it has been the sort of discussion that the Prime Minister’s described. We had a very good bilateral discussion yesterday, we covered some of the issues in more detail, it was conducted in the normally very friendly and relaxed and comfortable and very direct fashion which characterises exchanges between Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers and Australian and New Zealand Ministers. The two economies are both doing well by international standings. We face similar challenges with a fairly sluggish world economy, Australia is afflicted by the drought which has been one of the worst we’ve had for decades and obviously the sooner we can get that out of the system we can resume even higher growth. But overall both economies are certainly performing very well and by comparison with others the performance is quite impressive. But I want to take this opportunity of again thanking the Prime Minister of New Zealand for the very warm hospitality she’s extended. It’s always a pleasure to be in this country and we’ve both worked very hard to further strengthen what is already a very close relationship between two countries that can barely call each other foreign, we do have a particular affinity and it’s something that’s very important to me and it’s very important to the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, last night in an interview you linked the Bali bombing with the problems that [inaudible] in Iraq. Why did you link them?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

I have said constantly that the events of the 11th of September and the 12th of October last year have changed the world and changed the way in which the world must look at terrorism. I see disarming Iraq as being part of the wider war against terrorism because of Iraq’s past and continuing assistance to terrorist organisations. And because if chemical and biological weapons ever got into the hands of terrorists we could have even more horrific outcomes than occurred in Bali, that was the point that I sought to make. It’s been slightly misunderstood in some places but that was the point I was simply wanting to make and I don’t retreat from it all. The point I make is that I’m not alleging that Iraq is involved in Bali, I’m not alleging that. I’m making the point though that we must do everything we can to contain the capacity of rogue states to possess chemical and biological weapons because amongst other things they may give those weapons to terrorists.

JOURNALIST:

Are the Bali bombings though a justification? Can it be used as a reason to go into Iraq to disarm Saddam?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

No the reason why Iraq should be disarmed is because it is dangerous to have rogue states possessing chemical and biological weapons and aspiring to have nuclear weapons, not only because they may use them and in the case of Iraq they have used them, but because they might give them to terrorists. That’s the significance of the point I made.

JOURNALIST:

So when you made the comment, I will ask Australians to remember the victims of Bali if soldiers go in to fight against Iraq, was that not playing on the emotions of Australians, or preparing Australia for war?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

No it was stating…

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

It was stating the danger to Australia if terrorism is not contained in all possible ways including denying rogue states the capacity to hand chemical and biological weapons to terrorists. That was the point I was simply making. Look can I also say this, that we all hope that we can avoid a military conflict and we all hope that if a military conflict occurs that civilian casualties are the absolute minimum, we all hope and pray for that.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, [inaudible] resolution for the UN Security Council. If there can’t be agreement, what is the point of the Security Council? What is the point of the UN?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well I guess the question the Security Council has to ask itself is how relevant does it want to continue to be. But that is a test for the Security Council. I believe that the Security Council does face a very important test, very important, and that’s a view that I’ve been arguing for some time. I mean we would like to see the 18th resolution passed on Iraq, it’s not a second resolution, it’s the 18th resolution. We would like to see it passed because we believe that that would represent a broader expression of international will and opinion and that would exert even more pressure on Iraq to finally fess up as I’ve put it in the past. And I still think the one real hope of avoiding military conflict would be if the 15 members of the Security Council spoke with one voice in telling Iraq that the game was up. And that was augmented by the Arab states doing the same thing. I mean that would give you a real prospect then because while there is a divided expression of world opinion the encouragement is there in Baghdad to believe that they don’t have to finally come clean. I mean, we have a common view, all of us, we want Iraq disarmed, we’d love to see it occur peacefully, now that requires in my view a united expression of world opinion through the Security Council and it involves a recognition on the part of the Iraqis that the game is up. Now you won't, in my view, get those two things occurring if you don’t have a united expression of opinion in the Security Council.

JOURNALIST:

Wouldn’t a war against Iraq play into the hands of Muslim extremists and provoke more attacks like Bali?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

I don’t believe it would. Now let me put in context what has happened. Terrorism, international terrorism rose in strength and incidence and activity through the 1990s. If you take yourself back to the first attack on the World Trade Centre, then you had the bombings of the American Embassy in Kenya and you had other terrorist attacks and all of those things were occurring when a somewhat different attitude was then being taken towards Iraq. Terrorism, international terrorism of the extreme time that claimed lives in New York and Washington and in Bali is based on a blind hatred of western civilisation and western values, and the calibration of responses to that will not automatically buy immunity.

JOURNALIST:

If the US steps outside the boundaries of international law and UN structures, won’t that simply encourage every other rogue state and terrorist organisation to do exactly the same?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well Glenn, I don't believe that the United States will act outside international law. I can tell you that Australia will not act outside international law.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, [inaudible] divided opinion is encouraging Baghdad, does that mean that New Zealand’s position is doing that?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

No, look, I respect New Zealand's position, I understand it. This is a difficult issue and people of great goodwill can have genuinely different views. One of the difficulties of the world in which we now live is that it's not quite as black and white in terms of conflict as it once used to be. 1991 was a… 1990 was a very clear case of the army of one nation rolled across the border of another and the invader had to be pushed out, that was very straight forward. But we now live in a world where the threat of terrorism is borderless and it's different and you've got to confront it in a different way, and I can understand why people can reach different conclusions. Now, I'm just stating though my analysis in this very difficult week for the world - and it is a difficult week for the world - but you have to, in my view, deal with the reality. And I would say, for example, to the critics of the Americans, the vocal critics of the Americans they're very happy to have the American soldiers that have produced the weapons inspectors in Iraq yet they criticise the build-up. That's pretty cynical in my view. I mean, the starting point of some people is - let the inspectors have more time, but some of those people who have said let the inspectors have more time have criticised the American build-up which actually got the inspectors there in the first place.

JOURNALIST:

After they went in though…

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] in November last year. Four months later they’re…

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

There's no argument the… Hans Blix and Kofi Annan have both said publicly and privately that had it not been for the American military build-up there would be no inspectors in Iraq.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

No, I don't believe so. What has been very encouraging to date is that all sides that the debate on this have worked through the Security Council right up to and including this point. Clearly, this is a critical week and I think, as I said yesterday, there is not daylight between John and myself or between anybody sitting round that Security Council table on what the objective of disarmament is. Iraq is a problem, Iraq has been a problem for rather a long time. Now, there's no question as Mr Howard correctly quotes Mr Blix and Kofi Annan as saying that the threat of military action has produced more cooperation and enabled inspectors to get back in than has been the case for quite a long time. The problem I think we're facing at this point is that the timetable for war and the timetable for diplomacy are a little out of sync. Mr Blix signalled last week that he sees the disarmament of Iraq being achieved, not within days and not needing years but needing months. Clearly, the way the military build-up has gone, doesn't provide for months it tends now to only provide for days. And the critical issue in the international negotiations this week is whether there is a way through that. Because clearly, the United States, Britain, Australia, others, are not indefinitely able to keep the level of forces that they have in the Gulf sitting there. So, if that isn't the case, how are people going to be convinced that the inspection process will be able to keep up traction and keep momentum. I think that's what's underlining the debate about whether we should be talking days or months.

JOURNALIST:

Do you accept Mr Howard's analysis [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

If that's the message Baghdad's taking it is completely and utterly wrong and that is the point that I made when I addressed the conference in Melbourne around two weeks ago. I said Iraq is mistaken if it sees the very strong preference of a country like New Zealand for a diplomatic outcome as somehow indulging and tolerating the way it carries on. We do not. We know, as I've said on many occasions, that Iraq would strain the patience of a saint - every concession is dragged out with the greatest of reluctance. Now, it is clear that it has a rather short timeframe now to convince people that it genuinely will do everything that Mr Blix has asked. And unless it can convince some key players like the United States and Britain in the next week that it will indeed unconditionally comply and quickly, obviously there's very serious consequences with or without UN Security Council backing. And I repeat what I have been saying for rather a long time now that Iraq should move immediately to comply in full and unconditionally with every requirement that has been asked of it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, if a second resolution, a new resolution is not passed in the Security Council authorising force and a so-called coalition of the willing of US, Britain and Australia, whatever, take military action against Iraq, do you believe that will be in contravention of international law?

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

I would not form that judgement, no. I know that international law is capable of moving with the times - it is somewhat fluid. My concern has always been that before we see new precedents set we need to be asking what those precedents might be used for in the future. And I have said to a visiting US congressional and business delegation in recent weeks in New Zealand that while it may be easy enough to see justifications for what one has long seen as one's own side setting new precedents, and let's be very clear, the shared values based between Australia, and New Zealand, and Canada, and Britain, and the US, could not be closer. Nonetheless, we have to think a step ahead to what if another power with whom we didn't share those values use that precedent in a way that we didn't find very attractive at all. So, I go back to what I said at the press conference yesterday, that New Zealand has rather clear views about multilateralism and the authority of the Security Council and using those processes to the utmost that it can. But having said that, I acknowledge that international law does tend to follow established precedent and my concern a step or two out is where that precedent might leave this rather fragile world community.

JOURNALIST:

What sort of personal considerations would you go through if the need did arise for Australian troops to go into Iraq and you had to make that decision?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Look Tom, I've said before and everybody knows that committing the men and women of the armed forces of your country to military conflict is the most serious thing. And this is a very difficult issue and it's one that has weighed on my mind and continues to weigh on my mind. I will obviously, as I've said publicly to the Australian people, I will await the resolution of the resolution in the United Nations and then we will meet as a Cabinet and discuss the matter and we will weigh everything up. We have deployed troops. We are looking at this issue against the background of two considerations. The first and dominant consideration is that we worry about a world in which a nation like Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, not only because of her capacity to use them as she has in the past, but also if she is allowed to keep them others will think they can do likewise and one day you will have the fatal cocktail of those weapons being given to international terrorists. So that is the ultimate nightmare and that is the reason why I believe the world has to act firmly and bring about the immediate and unconditional and total disarmament of Iraq.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

I haven’t finished yet. That is the first reason. The second reason is, as I’ve often stated to the Australian people, is that I believe that it is always important for Australia to factor into decisions on our national security our security alliance with the United States. And it’s not the only consideration, it’s not the dominant consideration, the first one is, but it’s an important consideration. Now that has been my position for weeks. I’ve thought about it and I’ve debated it and I’m sure that it’s the right decision in the Australian national interest. Now I respect the fact that others can reach a different view, or only share only half of it. I understand that and I respect the fact that many of my fellow Australians of very great good will and of equal passion for our country have a different view. I understand that. That’s in the nature of a great national political debate and I want to engage them on their views as well as my own. But I have given it a great deal of thought, I continue to, but I’ve reached that very firm conclusion.

JOURNALIST:

Your argument about the ultimate nightmare, as you put it, ultimately hinges on a matter of judgement, that is the fear of weapons of mass destruction passing on from Iraq to terrorist groups.…

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Not only Iraq but other countries that are encouraged. And can I make the rhetorical point - if the Security Council cannot discipline Iraq what earthly hope do they have of disciplining North Korea. Does anybody seriously believe that if the Security Council is stared down by Iraq, North Korea won’t assume that it can also stare down the world.

JOURNALIST:

But given that there's no proof, nobody has been able to prove the link up to this point, even the US, the UN or anyone else, have you ever had any doubt that you might be overplaying the "ultimate nightmare" thing?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

David, like anybody in the position I have or Helen Clark has, you, no matter how strongly you feel about something of course you go through processes of revaluation yourself and you say maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not. Of course you go through that process. Anybody who says they don’t go through that process is either very arrogant and very conceited or alternatively doesn’t give the issue very much thought. Of course I’ve gone through that process, but I keep coming back as a matter of judgement. Now you say there’s not direct proof. There’s probably not proof that would satisfy a jury in the old bailey but there’s an enormous…..

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

There’s an enormous amount of material, intelligence material, and I think the presentation made…..

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

Excuse me, this is a media conference and the Australian Prime Minister is trying to state a view. I’m sorry, I’m not getting to get into a debate with you and I won’t take any more questions from you. Other questions please.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Sorry, I was confused too.

JOURNALIST:

… you are concerned that if a war occurs in Iraq that terrorism could actually increase rather than decrease. Is that still your view?

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

Well, we’ve been expressing concerns for quite some time about what war in Iraq if or if not authorised by the Security Council might trigger. And I want to make this point with some delicacy because in my view nothing ever justifies terrorism. But I think in a destabilised world in which we live it is likely that a war against Iraq however authorised will lead firstly to quite a difficult situation on the street in the Arab world and some have speculated that it could go so far as to destabilise friendly governments to the West. And secondly it will undoubtedly be used, in my view, as a recruiting tool for those who push terrorism. That’s not to say that a war in any circumstances is never justified at all but I just say that people look for causes to hook their fanatical actions around and undoubtedly for me a war in Iraq whatever the authorisation would be such a cause. I think that counter-terrorism is the most critical issue we face in the world today and when we have to worry about it and what’s previously been a reasonably peaceful South Pacific I think you can see the depth of the concern.

JOURNALIST:

Iraqi dissidents are saying that activities for which an Iraqi diplomat has been expelled have been going on for years. Given that Iraq has been in breach of UN resolutions for 12 years, why now? Why are you expelling the diplomat now?

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well Glenn, I’m not going to add any detail to what I’ve previously said in relation to the request that that man leave Australia. He broke the rules and that’s why he’s been asked to go. I do not comment on the detail of intelligence and security material that forms the basis of those decision.

JOURNALIST:

How much longer does the UN Security Council have in your opinion. Also, what significance does your speech to the National Press Club on Thursday [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

Well the question of how much longer is really a matter for the Security Council. I mean the point I’m making is that if the Security Council acts unitedly and resolutely you have a greater chance of getting a peaceful outcome than if it doesn’t. That is my very strong view and I’ve had the view and I’ve expressed it on a number of occasions that if they all said the same thing at the same time and you had the surrounding Arab states expressing a similar view you might just get the outcome that we all hope and pray is still possible. The significance of my speech on Thursday is that I felt it would be a good opportunity for me to go to the National Press Club, explain the Government’s policy. It is not timed because of some secret knowledge of something that might have been decided or might have happened by Thursday. When I decided to go to the Press Club I had no particular knowledge of how the debate was going to work out in the Security Council and I still…all I know is that people have said publicly there won’t be a vote before Tuesday. Where we will be on Thursday I don’t exactly know but I’ll still be I think at the National Press Club making a speech and answering your questions.

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

Very last question from the gentleman here.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER HOWARD:

No. It’s not true. It is true that I met with Mr Li Peng because he held a very senior position in the Chinese government. I met him when I went to Beijing and I also met him when he came to Australia to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and China. Meetings with Mr Li Peng occurred long before they could be put in the context of the LNG contract, if that is what you’re referring to, and any suggestion that we agreed to talk to Mr Li Peng in exchange for a gas contract is wrong. We dealt with Mr Li Peng because he is the leader of a country, was is in a leadership position in a country with whom we have very close relations and you have to understand that in the nature of exchanges that kind of meeting will always occur.

PRIME MINISTER CLARK:

Thank you very much, thank you.

[ends]

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