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Armitage IV With Roy Eccleston of The Australian

Interview With Roy Eccleston of The Australian

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State

Washington, DC
October 20, 2004

(10:00 a.m. EDT)

MR. ECCLESTON: Well, just generally on the election, the Australian election, the Howard government has been returned. Is that -- do you think that's a good sign for the President here? And, you know, what do you make of the return of the Howard government?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, it certainly doesn't hurt here. I know our friends in Great Britain paid very close attention to it as well. I would note that the government not only returned, but also has both the house and senate for the first time in 30 years. So I think that augers well for the Howard government being able to put forward legislation in perhaps a more resounding way.

As far as our relations are concerned, we would have, as we expressed beforehand, we've worked with a Labor government just as we'll work with a Coalition on a personal basis because we've been good friends for many years with delight. We would have been happy to work with Mr. Latham.

MR. ECCLESTON: Just on Mr. Latham, though, do you think that it's time to try and rebuild some bridges between the Bush Administration, particularly if you're reelected, and the Labor Party?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, I think you've probably seen our Ambassador in Australia has indicated that we ought to reach out to the Australian Labor Party. And certainly this is something Washington is delighted to do. Many of them have been friends for a long time, so I think it's not only appropriate, it's timely.

MR. ECCLESTON: And Mr. Latham, who has, of course, made criticisms of the President in the past, do you think after this, though, you can put those sort of things behind you and move on in the relationship?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, I think it's -- President Bush is a politician. He's been -- people have taken shots at him in the past, and I'm sure as he continues his presidency, they will continue to do so. Now, regarding Mr. Latham, there is absolutely no reason why we can't have a good relationship.

MR. ECCLESTON: I was listening to Geoff Hoon on the radio this morning talking about the request from American forces for extra British troops. And he said that not to provide the troops as requested would be -- not be behaving as a good ally. Now, Australia has been asked to produce some more troops to protect the UN, the forces in -- the UN election supporters in Iraq and has refused to do so. Were you disappointed by that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, Australia has -- was in on the beginning of this. You've still got, I think, around 400 soldiers in Iraq, you've got several hundred more throughout the Middle East. As I understand it, Australia has agreed to train and equip the Fijian -- 158 Fijian soldiers who will be part of the UN protection. No futher than closer to home, Australia is taking part in activities with PNG, with the Solomons, et cetera. So they're pretty extended and I think there's a great appreciation of that here. We're grateful for everything Australia has done.

MR. ECCLESTON: But wouldn't -- given that the U.S. is stretched and seeking support from Britain, wouldn't you -- wouldn't America like to see a greater contribution?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I just said, again, to the point, I'll say it again. We're delighted with the contribution that Australia has made and continues to make. I note particularly in this regard the Fijian training deployment.

MR. ECCLESTON: But what happened to the Pottery Barn rule? I mean, if you break it, you fix it? I mean Iraq has troubles. Australia went in there with the United States. Doesn't it have some obligation to help the United States and Britain to repair the country?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: The rest of you may have to help me out. The corporate image, the Pottery Barn rule, we've been told, is non-existent. They do not have such a rule at all, so just for the record.

But having said that, I think that Australia, as I said, has been part of the solution. Our President is bound and determined that Iraq is going to come out all right. We think we're getting some traction, and we're absolutely thrilled to have Australians alongside us and we're very grateful to her for this.

MR. ECCLESTON: So Australia has not cut and run in Iraq?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Australia cut and run? Hardly.

MR. ECCLESTON: Afghanistan. There's one Australian soldier. Is that enough?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: One Australian soldier?

MR. ECCLESTON: One Australian. That was reported the other day. We have one person in Afghanistan, given all the problems in that country.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I also remember you lost a soldier in Afghanistan, something our President referred to in one of his major addresses. I think that that family, that serviceman, his service and sacrifice, has been sufficient.

Afghanistan looks like it's turning in the right direction. I think Australia right now has plenty to do in her own neighborhood, as I've indicated with the PNG situation, so we're pretty happy with the way things (inaudible).

MR. ECCLESTON: But, just not to harp on this, but you did ask. It's been reported that Washington and Britain both asked Australia to contribute more. If you thought Australia was doing enough, why would you ask, I mean?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I didn't ask, and we're perfectly happy with what Australia's done. If Australia feels it's in her interests to do more, we'd happily accept more, but I have no anxiety or neuralgia about the contributions of Australia thus far.

MR. ECCLESTON: Just on North Korea. What's wrong with bilateral talks if it prevents some sort of nuclear catastrophe?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, as you know, we've had a multilateral six-party framework, and within that framework we've had bilateral talks. The Koreans know this just fine. We believe the best possibility for a solution is to keep all the people who have equities equally involved and equally informed, it's why we like our talks inside the framework of the six-party talks.

MR. ECCLESTON: So when John Kerry says he would open bilateral talks, is that necessarily going to be a problem for those negotiations?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I don't think so. It occurs to me we've got two weeks to our election and, for whatever reason, the North Koreans seem to want to wait until after that election.

I recently met with the Chinese major interlocutor on the six-party talks here in Washington. I've just come from Japan, where we had discussions about this. We'll be prepared to go after the elections, assuming the North Koreans are. I think they have miscalculated the importance of seeing a change here in Washington. I think if there were change, it's not going to change the makeup of the U.S. Congress; and if there were a Democratic President and a Republican Congress, it won't make it any easier for them as we move forward, particularly with a country, which has, in the past, cheated on her arrangements.

MR. ECCLESTON: So I'm not quite following you. So you're saying that even if Kerry was elected, it would be very difficult for him to do --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I said it's a miscalculation on the part of the North Koreans.

MR. ECCLESTON: Oh, I see, I see. I see what you're saying. But let's be clear, because Kerry has said he would open bilateral talks, and the President has said that would be the wrong way to go. So you're agreeing with the President or you're --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I'm agreeing with the President. I'm saying we've got the framework, which keeps all people with equities and have leverage with the North Koreans involved at this time. It's the best possible way to seek a solution.

MR. ECCLESTON: This talk of Australia-Indonesia security pact or defense pact, I don't know whether you've been briefed on that at all, but --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, that's a tricky question. You're being sneaky.

MR. ECCLESTON: Well, I haven't asked it yet.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think Mr. (inaudible) was responding to a hypothetical, called-in question, or the question was asked him in some place.

MR. ECCLESTON: Well, you know, I wasn't there. I'm just looking at what I've seen reported. Do you think it's a good idea or not?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: This is something for Australia and Indonesia have to decide.

MR. ECCLESTON: On Indonesia, are you disappointed that they haven't designated Jemaah Islamiya a terrorist organization?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, they may not have designated it a terrorist organization, but they've got Bakar Ba'asyir going up to trial again, which I think is a good thing. We're very excited about the direction in Indonesia, but what we're most excited about is Indonesians had a free and fair election and they clearly chose a path of moderation. So now you have the largest Muslim nation in the world chose a path of moderation, and I think that speaks well of Indonesia and it and speaks well for the possibility of very congenial relations with Indonesia.

MR. ECCLESTON: Right, that's with the United States and Indonesia you're talking about?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think it also is good for Australia, and certainly for us.

MR. ECCLESTON: So do you think Indonesia is more likely in the future to be doing more antiterrorist work under the new leader, new president?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, he certainly is familiar with those activities. We visited with him and he was very astute on the subject, so I would certainly hope that's the case. But he's -- I think his first 100 days or so, he'll be very much with his hands full trying to organize his new government and try to get a handle on his major domestic issues.

MR. ECCLESTON: On the free trade agreement, the United States still hasn't signed the letters of exchange, which has led to some speculation about whether this thing is going to go ahead or not. Is there any problem with the FTA?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I certainly hope it goes ahead. We had some questions, as you know, in the pharmaceutical area and some of these were raised during your debate in the last couple months. Bob Zoellick has the responsibility of making this determination for our President. Now, I've got to let him make that determination, but I certainly hope goes through. We've all worked hard for it.

MR. ECCLESTON: When you say hope, I mean, is there any doubt about it?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't have any doubt about the desire on our side to have it go through, but I'm conscious of not stepping on Mr. Zoellick's toes. He's got to make some determinations on this and we just have to let him make them. I would note that Bob Zoellick is the guy that first raised the FTA in a speech upstairs here two years ago in our Australian-American leadership dialogue. So I think that tells you where his head is at.

MR. ECCLESTON: Yeah, yeah. So it's just -- you're just saying it's for Zoellick to do that work. You're not casting doubt on whether the thing's going to --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I'm not casting doubt. We've said, Tom Schieffer has said, Bob Zoellick has said, we've got some concerns and we're trying to work forward. This was raised during your campaign. Bob Zoellick deals with those concerns.

MR. ECCLESTON: Right. And you don't know whether those concerns are being adequately addressed from the U.S. perspective?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I haven't talked to Bob about it. I was traveling last week.

MR. ECCLESTON: Right. Okay. Under -- the President says that under John Kerry the world will be a more dangerous place. Why is that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think the President, as I have read his speeches, the President doesn't feel that Mr. Kerry is going to give the global war on terrorism the full and unwavering energy that it needs. I've seen him say generally that.

MR. ECCLESTON: Would you agree with that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Pardon me?

MR. ECCLESTON: Do you agree that the world will be an un-- a less safe place?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I work for President Bush, so obviously I agree with him.

MR. ECCLESTON: So it's unsafe because America would be not as aggressive on the war on terrorism?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: The President feels very strongly that this is a long-term struggle. It's one that we can't shy away from. It's going to take leadership, even when leadership is sometimes something that makes you unpopular, at least in the short to medium term. He's willing to bear that burden to see it through to a successful conclusion. He never raised questions about his challenger.

MR. ECCLESTON: There was a story published in the Sydney Morning Herald that Prime Minister Allawi had killed six people in Baghdad. Do you have -- do you believe that to be untrue? And if you do, do you have any definitive proof that that did not happen?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think I've got an eight-letter word for it.

MR. ECCLESTON: Yeah. Does it begin with B?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, it begins with N.

MR. ECCLESTON: Okay.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Nonsense.

MR. ECCLESTON: Okay. (Laughter.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Stop.

MR. FLOYD: You got me. (Laughter.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Stop. I know I did (inaudible).

I was visiting with Prime Minister Allawi in Baghdad the day after that story.

MR. ECCLESTON: Oh, yes.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: And at the time he was alleged to have been doing that, he was with one or another -- meeting with one or another of the U.S. persons. And so, for me, that's pretty definitive proof. Besides, he told me didn't do it.

MR. ECCLESTON: Do you know he wasn't where he was supposed to be at the time?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I know he was -- at the time it was alleged to have happened, he was with the U.S. -- attending a U.S. function.

MR. ECCLESTON: What do you make of stories like that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Oh, I think in Baghdad, if you are historically looking it up, for over thousands of years, there has been a longing for a -- one strong person. And I note that after the nonsensical stories came out, Prime Minister Allawi's popularity went up. I think, because I think some people were feeling, enough, someone is going to have to step up and take charge of this -- what was becoming a chaotic situation. So I think that's what it was.

MR. ECCLESTON: How much longer? Do we have enough time for a couple of questions? Yeah?

The Palestinian dispute has not come up in this election. The Arab-Israeli dispute has not really raised its head in this election. What do you make of that? I mean, it's --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I could make a lot of things of it.

First of all, there is a bedrock of support for Israel in every political party. Second of all, I think there's pretty much a fatigue with the inability of the Palestinians to get their act together. You will notice that one of the former prime ministers, Abu Mazen, recently said this whole second intifadah was a failure, or words to that effect.

And so the combination of the bedrock support for Israel and the total inability of the Palestinians to get, to take charge of themselves and come up with leadership and really step forward in a meaningful way with the security area and the corruption area, has been one, I think, that has put a general malaise into the mix.

MR. ECCLESTON: But there hasn't been a great deal of progress, though, under the Administration. Why wouldn't it be a subject, which was of concern and then debated, given that it's --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: You've got to have someone to negotiate with. There is a general feeling here, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, that if the Israelis were inclined to negotiate, with whom do they going to negotiate? So that's -- since there hasn't been that partner, I think that's the reason the peace process has been so muted, if you will, perhaps, in the campaign.

MR. ECCLESTON: I interviewed Diana Kerry recently, the candidate's sister, who said that Australians, in her opinion, were less safe in the world because they had -- because the government had followed the American attack on Iraq. She cited the bombings in Indonesia and Bali, and more recently, near the embassy. What's your view of that? Are Australians less safe in the world?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I was under the impression that the Bali bombing happened before Iraq. It had nothing to do with Iraq. It had to do with people who are not inclined to have you enjoy your way of life. You are a threat to them because of who you are and what you believe in. I don't see the evidence that things are less safe now for Australians. They were unsafe well before Iraq. Bali tragically proved that.

MR. ECCLESTON: And in going down into the future, I mean, do you get the sense at all that our reluctance to keep involved -- to step up our involvement in Iraq is linked to this concern that perhaps Australians are more of a target because of the high-level support we've had with your Administration?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I have never seen that and I have never heard it discussed here. I have never heard anything here in our Councils of Government but praise for the leadership of Mr. Howard and the Government of Australia. So I guess the short answer to your question is no.

MR. ECCLESTON: Okay, well, thank you very much for all of your time this morning. I appreciate it very much. 2004/1135

[End]

Released on October 21, 2004


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