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Armitage, in Australia, Discusses Security, Trade

Armitage, in Australia, Discusses Security, Trade Issues

August 12 press availability at U.S. Embassy Canberra

The American people greatly appreciate Australia's "splendid support" in the war on terrorism, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said during an August 12 press availability at the U.S. Embassy in Canberra.

"The fact that Australia participates alongside of us, because it's in Australia's interest, is something that gives Americans a huge amount of confidence," Armitage said.

However, he continued, while there have been successes against al Qaeda, the terrorist organization -- and thus the threat of attacks -- remains "alive and well."

On regional security issues, Armitage said the United States is following Australia's lead in trying "to bring about a better future for Papua New Guinea," and supports Australia's efforts in the Solomon Islands.

The Deputy Secretary added that he supports Australia's decision to have military-to-military ties with special Indonesian units, commenting that "you live in what is obviously a very dangerous neighborhood."

Indonesia's "Kopassus" special forces units have highly trained anti-terror groups, he said. "I think it is in Australia's interests to develop relations again with Kopassus, not mindlessly without thinking of the past, but more focusing on the future."

Armitage also encouraged Australia to participate in a missile defense program with the United States.

"We happen to think there's a need for this," he said, citing the "difficulties we're having trying to resolve North Korea," and Iran's efforts to develop missiles and other technologies "for which we have very little or no defense."

"We are going to pursue this program, and if Australia wants to participate we welcome it, because Australia has technical capabilities, intelligence and I think a vision to get out ahead of threats. But this is a decision that Australia will have to make at every step of the way," the Deputy Secretary said.

On North Korea, Armitage said there would be six-way talks in Beijing between North Korea, South Korea, Russia, China, Japan, and the United States later this month in Beijing.

The Deputy Secretary acknowledged China's assistance in helping to bring about the Beijing talks, and said preparations for the talks with the Pyongyang regime have been "very businesslike."

On efforts to negotiate a free trade agreement between the United States and Australia, Armitage said President Bush has instructed U.S. trade officials to reach an agreement by the end of the year if possible.

Armitage acknowledged that remaining issues to be decided by the two sides in the area of agriculture were difficult.

"Clearly the easy matters have been taken care of and the difficult matter is the one we're wrestling with now and that's the general subject of agriculture where both of our agricultural industries and interests have strong views," he told reporters.

Following is a transcript of the news availability: Press Availability
U.S. Embassy, Office of Public Affairs
Canberra, Australia
August 12, 2003 Richard L. Armitage
Deputy Secretary of State

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I'm in Australia to consult with our Australian colleagues at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Defense and the Office of National Assessments. It will be a great honor to see the Prime Minister later this evening. I'll give a speech tomorrow at the Asia Society and then onto Melbourne for the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue. I'll take your questions, whether I can answer any of them I'll leave up to you. But we'll just carry on in any way you see fit.

QUESTION: What is your assessment of the risk that Australia faces by al Qaeda?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think you have already seen in Bali that all the free world faces risks from al Qaeda. In this recent spate of information and warnings we had a little miscommunication originally about what sort of threat Australia faces. I know of no increased level of threat directed at Australia but I think there is the general neuralgia that we all feel having al Qaeda still alive and well.

QUESTION: Given those risks, and discussion in Australia at the moment about renewing military-to-military ties with Indonesia, specifically Kopassus units, what is the US attitude towards the renewal of that relationship and is it prepared to do so itself given the Freeport teachers' murders?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: The decision to renew relations with Kopassus or not is one that the Government of Australia will make. What the United States' view is of it is a separate matter. I actually support this development. I think that you live in what is obviously a very dangerous neighborhood. Kopassus has certain anti-terror units that are highly trained. I think it is in Australia's interests to develop relations again with Kopassus, not mindlessly without thinking of the past, but more focusing on the future. Regarding the United States, because of the murders of which you refer of our two citizens, we are not yet in a position to renew our own relationships with Kopassus. I wish that were not the case, but the fact of the matter is we have to have a resolution which is satisfactory, in order to do that. We do have relationships with the Indonesian police, and we will continue to work those.

QUESTION: On the terrorist threat in Southeast Asia, how concerned are you? We've had about 83 JI [Jemaah Islamiya] arrests since Bali. Has that made much of a dent into the terrorist presence there? What more can be done in terms of cooperation amongst ASEAN nations and Australia to improve the counterterrorism threat?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Since the horror of October 12th, in which so many Australians suffered so grievously, it's difficult to say how big an impact we've had on al Qaeda. You mentioned certain arrests; there are other disruptions, the choking off of financial trails and flows where we could find them. So I don't know how you measure success by things that don't happen. The fact that we have had one bombing in Jakarta was a terrible event. But I think what is significant is that up to that point we hadn't had some. So clearly we are making a difference. But as you saw from the behavior of people who were receiving their sentences in Indonesia regarding the Bali bombing, we can expect these people to continue their activities. There is no acknowledgement of any wrongdoing or guilt, so I think the threat continues high.

QUESTION: Just a couple of questions on North Korea.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: A couple of questions, okay. You're jumping the queue, but okay.

QUESTION: Will John Bolton be included in any US delegations to the six-way talks and could his recent comments have jeopardized any six-way talks?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: First of all, the United States Government will make the decision on who will participate in the upcoming six-way talks. Mr. Bolton was not scheduled and will not be participating in those talks. His recent comments reflect a point of view in the United States held by many. Clearly they did not affect the talks. We're going ahead with them in Beijing in the latter part of this month. But let me assure you that the United States Government and not the North Korean Government will determine the make-up of our delegation.

QUESTION: And just quickly following up on that. What prospects do you have for the talks?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, do I look a fool? I'm not going to estimate success or failure, optimism or pessimism. I think the good news is we've been able to set the multilateral talks in Beijing with the assistance -- which is gratefully acknowledged -- of the Chinese Government. The other part of the good news is it seems that the preparations thus far have been very businesslike. Beyond that, we'll sit at the table, we'll listen to each other, we'll talk among and between all six parties and following the talks we'll have, I think, something to say about whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic. Right now we're businesslike.

QUESTION: How does the United States view the Australian-led mutual intervention force into the Solomons?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: How do we view it? Well, here again is a nation, Australia, doing what Australia feels is in its national interest. I think it speaks a very hopeful vision for the region. You see trouble, you've realized, just as we've realized that any failed states can reach out and touch us badly. And Australia, assisted by other like-minded nations, but Australia in the lead, is reaching out I think to put forward a vision of a better future for the region, for the neighborhood. I think it's very commendable and from the top to the bottom of the U.S. Government we're in admiration for the stand-up efforts of the Australian Armed Forces and the Government.

QUESTION: Do you think that there are any other states in the region that might similarly benefit from an intervention force like this one?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I don't want to wish it on anyone. We know that there are difficult situations in Papua New Guinea, Nauru from time to time has been troublesome, so big and small there are potential trouble areas. For instance in PNG where I mentioned, Australians are clearly the lead nation in terms of assistance to Papua New Guinea but the United States is, I hope, a close second and we'll continue to work closely with Australia following Australia's lead to try to bring about a better future for Papua New Guinea.

QUESTION: I was just wondering could you give me an assessment of how you think negotiations with the FTA are going and do you think -- are you still confident that it will be completed by the end of this year?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I'm confident that President Bush has given our negotiator some pretty severe instructions to do his best to complete it by the end of the year. Clearly the easy matters have been taken care of and the difficult matter is the one we're wrestling with now and that's the general subject of agriculture where both of our agricultural industries and interests have strong views. If it had been easy, it would already be done. It's not easy, it's not done, but we look forward to progress as we go to Cancun and later in October we have another meeting I think here actually. And I know that one of our negotiators in the FTA will be with me in Melbourne for the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue and I'll get a better sense of where he is. But the United States is operating on instructions from George Bush, and that is that if humanly possible to resolve this by the end of the year. That came out of the Crawford visit of the Prime Minister.

QUESTION: On Australia's new more interventionist stance in the Pacific, the U.S. has had to take on for its role as a global superpower sort of a global policeman role, do you see Australia as becoming more of a regional sheriff as part of (inaudible) of Australia and the U.S. in the region in the Solomons and other episodes?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I wouldn't characterize Australia as a sheriff or policeman or anything of the sort. I would characterize Australia as a nation who has a vision for the region and who attempts to put that vision into play. We ourselves are involved. You talk about sheriffs, one global and one regional. I think the fact of the matter is that we're both interested in regional affairs and we're both interested in global affairs. We are citizens of the world, we're not just citizens of the region and that's true of Australia as well as the United States.

QUESTION: There have been reports today, I think coming from CNN, that al Qaeda is claiming responsibility for the Indonesian Marriott bombing. Are you aware of that? How much credence do you give it?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I saw the crawler on the TV that indicated that and I find it not surprising. Clearly JI is an al Qaeda affiliate and has made threats and is a threat to the government of Indonesia and to both of our interests. That's why I find it not surprising but I have no direct knowledge of it.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you about David Hicks, our unfortunate citizen locked up in Cuba.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: An unfortunate citizen?

QUESTION: Our unfortunate citizen locked up in Cuba.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I find it quite fortunate that he's locked up in Cuba, thank you.

QUESTION: I'm not saying that, I'm saying he's an unfortunate citizen locked up in Cuba. I just wanted to ask you, do you think that there is an opening for a plea bargain situation between Hicks and the United States authorities and do you think that this guy will ever get anything resembling a fair trial?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: He has been named as one of those who would be heard before a military tribunal. As you know, we've got discussions with Australian officials about how he would be represented, and clearly he must be. And I'm unaware of any plea bargaining. I don't know how one has a plea bargain when one doesn't yet have counsel, but I'd refer you to the Pentagon on that. And just for the record, I think it's very fortunate for all of us that Mr. Hicks is locked up and is no longer fighting with al Qaeda and the Taliban.

QUESTION: On North Korea, do you see a role for weapons inspectors and will Australia have a role in that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: During my discussions here today with Secretary Ashton Calvert, we did discuss the whole area of verification, an area that Australia has some unique expertise in. And Secretary Calvert made it clear that Australia was willing to lend their experience and their expertise to us and I accepted with alacrity. We're a long way away from a verification regime when we are just about to start the six-way party talks at the end of this month. So I indicated that I would tie our verification folks together with Ashton's and we'd find a way forward. Whether that means direct Australian inspectors -- we're a long way away from that and I couldn't even predict where that will end up.

QUESTION: Mr. Armitage, I realize you might not want to give us a comprehensive lead, but what kind of subjects would you hope to discuss with the Prime Minister tomorrow?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: First of all I want to follow up on some of the discussions we've had today about Indonesia, about the global war on terrorism. I want to speak about Iraq and the progress we're making, and I'll certainly be, as always, interested in anything that the Prime Minister would want to talk about and be advised to follow any leads that he might have. I came with no strict agenda, I'm not here to ask for anything. I am here, as I have done with all of my colleagues, to express appreciation for the splendid support which Australia has given. And I've tried to explain, I think very incompletely and not very competently, the fact that for the United States, the fact that Australia participates alongside of us, because it's in Australia's interest, is something that gives Americans a huge amount of confidence. I don't know how to adequately explain that to Australian audiences because no one seems to believe me. But it is a fact. And it is something that all Americans understand implicitly.

QUESTION: Is the United States still undergoing the reassessment of its force deployments in the Asia Pacific region?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Globally, sir.

QUESTION: And in the region, is Australia seen as a potential base?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No.

QUESTION: Will you be having any discussions with the Prime Minister on this at all?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: If he wants to talk about it. This is something that belongs in the Department of Defense, but I think I've answered your question as straightforwardly as possible and the answer is no. So I'll take no for an answer.

QUESTION: Why is that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Why is it no? Australia is located by virtue and benefit of her geography in this area and we love to have the ability to exercise with our friends and hopefully Australia likes to exercise with us. The geography is not generally something that lends itself to immediate deployments. And our whole force posture is going more in the direction of being able to rapidly deploy.

QUESTION: Just back on North Korea, how advanced are plans for an interception force? Is that something that would be open to negotiation in the six-way talks, and what sort of role do you see for Australia in that force?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, first of all, the agenda for the six-way talks has not been laid out. I think we intended to start with the proliferation security initiative in our talks with North Korea. But as regards to the role for Australia, Australia is one of 11 nations right now who have expressed an interest in this and is working with us to try to develop the full range of concerns and considerations to include liability, to include legality, to include modality. This is a very interesting idea. It's not simply something devised for North Korea. It would be equally applicable for any nation which wants to proliferate technology, and would be helpful to any of us. I know there's no decision on behalf of Australia to participate. As I said, we find this is just an initiative that we're still in the exploratory process of. We're delighted that we'll have a small exercise here in the not too distant future just to see the feasibility of such a tool. It's quite clear that the traditional architecture of non-proliferation has been essential for some 40 or 50 years, but it's no longer sufficient when you deal with failing states, it's no longer sufficient when you deal with rogue states. It's no longer sufficient when dealing with non-state or transnational actors so we need, in additional to the traditional architecture, we need some new tools and this is one of our attempts to try to develop one.

QUESTION: You mentioned the significance of Australia's support to the American people. We've heard today that this message from al Qaeda, or purporting to be from al Qaeda, mentions Australia specifically and that seems to be happening more frequently. What do you think the relationship is between al Qaeda focusing on Australia and the strength of Australia's support for America?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think that the reason al Qaeda focuses on ourselves, on Great Britain and if it's true that they're focusing to a higher degree on Australia it means that you're a greater threat to what they want to bring about. They are not very enthusiastic about free, open, transparent societies; they have no enthusiasm for the role of women in those societies. So everything that free, open and transparent societies represent is a threat to them, so it wouldn't be a surprise to me that you, we, Great Britain and other like-minded nations are under threat.

QUESTION: At the weekend the Prime Minister here has said that Australia's defense spending will continue to trend up, but at the same time the Defense Minister has foreshadowed a possible cutback on the number of Joint Strike Fighters Australia may purchase, to keep the defense budget reined in. Do you have any thoughts on the level of defense spending and the type of force structure that's here at the moment? Is it something that the US thinks in this changed world that Australia should be dramatically changing things, or would you be uncomfortable if there was a decision taken to cut back that number of JSFs or anything else?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: You don't give your own officials sufficient credit in my view. You're not sitting around waiting for the United States to tell you just what your force structure should be. You've had experience in deployments recently, both alongside us, more recently in the Solomons. I think the officials of the Department of Defense, DFAT, the Prime Minister's Office, are more than capable of making these decisions. Our own view is that we would want to be of assistance wherever we could to make sure to the extent it's comfortable to Australia, that we were interoperable and mutually supportive in the eventuality that allies, such as we are, have to again operate together.

QUESTION: You made a reference just in your brief opening statement to what I took to mean the U.S. Homeland Security Department's intelligence error, I suppose, when it came to an alert to the U.S. aviation industry. Was that an embarrassment and a setback to the intelligence relationship between these two countries?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, no. On the contrary. I think it was a sign of how much we care. We want to make sure that we do everything in our power to get information out to Australian citizens and aviation as soon as possible, but in our haste to do so, we had I think four words -- I can't quite remember -- in error and I think the very next day we corrected the error. No, I think the lesson to be learned is the United States is trying, in word and deed, to be as open and sharing with Australian citizens and government as possible.

QUESTION: You mentioned before that you think it's fortunate for all of us that David Hicks is locked up and no longer fighting for al Qaeda. Is that the general feeling back in the U.S. and if that's the case then what guarantee can you give that he'll get a fair trial?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: The same guarantee that we've given your government officials who, by the way, would be all over us if we didn't live up to our word. And I would take it by, perhaps your question, that you think it would be better if he was still running free. I don't think so. These folks did us a grievous harm, I believe, by extension they did you a grievous harm. You lost citizens on September 11th. So I find his being locked up to be satisfactory. He will get a fair trial, he will get the benefit of counsel. These are things being worked out with your government. And he will not suffer the death penalty, notwithstanding my own personal views on that.

QUESTION: On missile defense, why does the U.S. want Australia involved? What sort of involvement do you foresee, and what's the kind of response you've been getting from the Government?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I didn't discuss this. We have colleagues coming later in the month or so from the Department of Defense who will be discussing missile defense. We happen to think there's a need for this. If for no other reason, look at what difficulties we're having trying to resolve North Korea. We've got Iran developing missiles and other states are interested in developing these technologies for which we have very little or no defense. We are going to pursue this program, and if Australia wants to participate we welcome it, because Australia has technical capabilities, intelligence and I think a vision to get out ahead of threats. But this is a decision that Australia will have to make at every step of the way.

QUESTION: You've said here that al Qaeda is still clearly operating and you've said that we live in a dangerous neighborhood, but given it's nearly two years now since the terrible event that started the war on terror, how has that war on terror, efforts to curtail al Qaeda and its affiliates, how is that progressing?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: It's a difficult question to answer because -- I'll give you some facts and figures, but I don't find them satisfactory myself. But we've had over 500 arrests in Pakistan, to include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, since May 12th, and the renewed vigor of the Saudi Arabian Government. We've had some major takedowns and the deaths of some major al Qaeda, with Swift Sword being the lead among them. Much of the al Qaeda leadership is dead or in hiding. We have through UN 1373 Committee activities been able to choke a certain amount of money which travels free, all of which we know makes it more difficult for al Qaeda. They've had to go to couriers, they've stopped using their mobile phones to a high degree and their emails. So the ability to conduct terrorism is more difficult. Having said that, they're still out there and I can't give you a number. Clearly they're active in Indonesia. They're active in Thailand. Singaporean authorities were appalled a year or so ago with the major bust they had. We are continuing to wrap up people in our country who have involvement with al Qaeda and the battle goes on. We know that Iran, to her own admission, is holding a certain number of al Qaeda. Some of them we believe to be quite high level. We'd like to get access to them and interrogate them to try to head off whatever plans they've already got in the works. So to just quote you numbers I think is, in a way, meaningless, because we don't know how many there are. For the United States, from day one, the President has said this is going to be a long war, it's going to be a gritty neuralgic war, we're in it for the long haul, and he deliberately shied away from making any predictions because his feeling at the time was we're dealing with a new phenomenon and it's going to be a long time before we get our arms around it.

QUESTION: You referred to the Pacific before and the problem with failing states and the dangers that they can pose to all our nations. Our Prime Minister will be at the Pacific Islands Forum later this week talking about the need for greater cooperation, pooling of resources between Pacific countries. Today a Parliamentary Committee has made a recommendation for a Pacific community along the lines of the EU, bringing together the 16 Pacific states to avoid state failures. Do you have any gut reaction to that sort of idea, whether that's a positive move to bring a economies of scale across the Pacific?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't know that I'm expert enough. It sounds to me, just as you outlined it, I didn't see the Parliamentary debate, that it's a recognition of a problem that's common to all and perhaps if understanding is the beginning of wisdom, I happen to believe it is, perhaps it's the beginning of a common understanding of the problem, and so to that extent it sounds like a good idea, but I'm not an expert on it. I didn't see the debate and I'm loath to comment beyond that until I do.

QUESTION: There seems to be a lot of evidence that Saudi Arabian funds are actually supporting al Qaeda and groups like JI and there appears to be evidence that Saudi charities are doing work supporting JI in Indonesia. Does the US agree with that and what is the U.S., as a country with great influence in Saudi Arabia, doing to stop those fund flows?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Let me sort of parse your question just a little bit. When you talk about Saudi Arabian funds, its citizens and some charitable organizations in Saudi Arabia have funneled the funds just as you suggested. That's quite a different matter from the government of Saudi Arabia. We've even found, by the way, that some funds supporting Wahabism, they found a way from Saudi Arabia into Iraq and they're causing us some difficulty there. So we agree that there are private organizations in Saudi Arabia who have been funding Madrassas and causing mischief in many parts of the world, South East Asia, as well as Pakistan. Having said that, we've had renewed and very intensive discussions recently with colleagues of mine, the CIA, FBI that are in Saudi Arabia, who found renewed vim and vigor on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia after the May 12 bombing. We found laws being changed and scrutiny directed towards the private charitable organizations to be greatly heightened. It is still not sufficient.

QUESTION: You say it's not sufficient. So will you be - - -

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We're continuing. As I say, we just had some of my colleagues out there, we pointed out what we thought was going right. We thought of some areas where they might have a little more scrutiny. We got a very good reply from the Government of Saudi Arabia, but these things are not faucets and you just don't turn it off. So from my point of view it is still insufficient, though it's moving in the right direction.

QUESTION: Recently there was an escape from a prison in Manila of a significant JI operative. What's your assessment of the capability of the Philippines Government and law enforcement agencies there to fight the war on terrorism? Is the Philippines becoming the weak link in Asia in that regard?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I have no doubt that the Government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants to do the right thing and she herself is dedicated to this battle. I equally have no doubt that the problems in Mindanao and the Southern Philippines are quite severe and that terrorist groups to include the Abu Sayyaf Group move about with impunity and with a great deal of freedom. And we have worked with training certain units of the AFP. Some of them have been somewhat successful, others much less so. But I would agree that the Southern Philippines is an area of great trauma and difficulty and I can only hope and assure you that the United States is going to support the Government of Mrs. Arroyo as she tries to get a handle on this, but it certainly bears watching by all us, to include Australia. Thank you all very much.


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