Condoleezza Rice & Alexander Downer Press Conf.
Remarks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer And Australian Secretary of Defense Brendan Nelson Joint Press Availability
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Ben Franklin Room
December 12, 2006
(2:50 p.m. EST)
SECRETARY RICE: Good afternoon. Deputy Secretary Gordon England and I are delighted to welcome our colleagues from Australia, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Defense Minister Brendan Nelson, to the United States and here to the State Department for our Australia-United States ministerial consultations. These consultations are held periodically to review the full range of issues in our quite effective strategic alliance, an alliance that of course most of all is based on our common values, but these days is based also on common work across a range of global issues.
I want to thank in particular Australia for its steadfastness in the war on terror, for the work that it does side by side with our forces whether in Iraq or Afghanistan or in humanitarian circumstances as we worked together at the time of the tsunami. This is really a relationship that in both its defense and foreign policy aspects is both broad and deep.
I would like to just make note of the many issues that we've dealt with. We've dealt with the full range of defense alliance issues, including earlier the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on Joint Strike Fighter Cooperation, which our defense minister colleagues signed. Alexander and I had the chance to witness; just to make sure that they were capable of signing it, we stood there. (Laughter.)
We also had the opportunity to talk about global security issues, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran. We talked about the emerging architecture in East Asia, the importance of APEC to that architecture. And then in a session that has just concluded, we talked about security issues in the region, including Southeast Asian security, U.S.-Australia-Japan security cooperation -- it's a trilateral arrangement that we have on a number of occasions met in that trilateral format -- and we talked, of course, about issues concerning the nuclear program of the DPRK.
As you can see, it was wide-ranging. We've spent a good bit of the day together and I want to thank very much again my colleagues for coming to the United States, but most especially for your enduring friendship.
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: Well, thank you very much, Secretary Rice and Deputy Secretary England and Brendan Nelson, the Australian Defense Minister. We've had a very good range of talks today and I think Secretary Rice has covered pretty much the burden of the discussions. And obviously from our point of view, it's been important to have a wholehearted discussion about the question of Iraq and American strategy in Iraq, and we've made it very clear to the United States Administration that it is the view of the Australian Government that there must be no defeat in Iraq; that the Americans and their allies must not only prevail, but above all the Iraqi people must prevail; and that this is a difficult situation, particularly in and around Baghdad, but it's important to, you know, of course, make changes to policy here and there but nevertheless to ensure that there is a successful outcome and to show determination to achieve that. And Australia, of course, will continue to make its own contribution to that outcome.
We've had a good opportunity to discuss the issue of Afghanistan as well and Southeast Asian issues. We always put a lot of emphasis in these discussions on Indonesia. I don't think in the United States it's always understood that one of the great triumphs of recent times has been the emergence of a successful pluralistic democracy in Indonesia, which is the world's fourth largest country, the world's third largest democracy and the world's largest -- has the world's largest Muslim population. But it is a great success story, the Indonesian story, and they also deserve to be congratulated for the conduct of the elections this week in Aceh, which has been a troubled province of Indonesia.
We had the opportunity also last night to discuss some of these issues with Vice President Cheney, and I with the National Security Advisor Hadley yesterday afternoon. So it's been a very good opportunity for us to discuss these full range of issues with our American allies and we appreciate the friendship and the cooperation and all the support, of course, that the United States gives to Australia and its acknowledgement and understanding of Australia's interests, and that's something we particularly appreciate.
MODERATOR: We have time for a few questions. We'll start with Anne Gearan from Associated Press.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the Iraq Study Group recommended beginning a diplomatic offensive by the end of the year, and President Bush had indicated that he would give a speech about his plans for Iraq before Christmas. If that schedule is slipping to January, do you risk either the appearance of indecision or inability to reach a consensus?
And for Foreign Minister Downer, you mentioned making changes here and there. Did you make any particular recommendations for what those changes should be?
SECRETARY RICE: Anne, the President's goal, and indeed his responsibility, is to do precisely what he said he would do, which is to put before the American people the new way forward that we need to take in Iraq in light of changing circumstances there, in large part attended by changes in the kind of violence that is being experienced -- the sectarian violence -- and also the support that is needed by this now six-month-old government.
And so the President has, of course, taken the considerations of the -- the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group into consideration. He is meeting with a wide range of people. He was here at the State Department yesterday. He will be at the Pentagon, I think tomorrow. And it shouldn't be surprising that he wants to take the time to digest that, to discuss it with his senior advisors and then to put forward a way forward. And I'm quite certain that that will be in a reasonable length of time, but it has to be a way forward that, first and foremost, the President feels he's consulted fully, that he has been given the very best advice and that he has a way forward that -- in which he has confidence when he puts it before the American people.
It's also the case that Secretary of Defense-designate Gates will be on board on the 18th and so it's very important that he also will have an opportunity to participate fully in the development of that strategy.
As to the diplomatic offensive, I think I've made very clear that the United States is actively engaged in the Middle East in a comprehensive way and will look for opportunities to be even more actively engaged, because we believe that conditions are perhaps presenting themselves in the Palestinian-Israeli -- on the Palestinian-Israeli front, that there's an opening there and I think you will see a quite active diplomatic engagement. But it only makes sense for the President to take whatever time he needs to have confidence in the course that he will put forward before the American people.
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: Let me just say that our view is, first of all, it's not timetables. It's not the haste with which the President makes his decisions; it's the quality of the decisions that counts. And, you know, our view is he should make the decisions when he feels comfortable he's got the right formula in place. That's the important thing and that's what history will judge him by, not whether he's done it before Christmas or two weeks after Christmas.
And the second thing I'd say is that the advice we have is essentially, look, there are a lot of different things that we've raised but there are a couple that I'll mention. First out of the Baker-Hamilton report, we take this message and there are a number of things in it which are of interest. But I think one of the most important messages that comes out of that report is that a precipitous withdrawal would be disastrous. And it's a hard thing to say to an ally because we feel very strongly of the families of those Americans who have lost loved ones in Iraq and it's a lot of people and it brings great tragedy to families and communities and our hearts go out to those people and our compassion to their families.
But having said that, we believe that if the United States were to withdraw too quickly and inappropriately, the consequences would not only be disastrous for the Iraqi people, it could lead to neighboring countries being drawn into military conflict over Iraq and in Iraq. And of course the consequences for the struggle against terrorism internationally would be utterly disastrous and that's one message that we have delivered to the Americans. I know it's not a very popular message but we can't always just be popular. We have to try to work out what the right thing to do is.
And the second message is that, of course, much of the burden here rests on the shoulders of the Iraqis themselves. This is their country and they must very substantially take responsibility after all that has been done for them to ensure that they run their country in a responsible way. And the political leadership of the country must not be sectional leaders; they must be national leaders. And it's important to emphasize to those people the national responsibilities they have to all Iraqis, regardless of whether those leaders are Shia or Sunni or Kurds, whatever they may be. And I think the international community needs to encourage that message; that regardless of people's backgrounds, they need -- Iraqis' backgrounds, they need to operate on behalf of all of the people of Iraq and moderate people of Iraq. And the more the moderates can work together, be they Shia moderates, Sunni moderates, Kurdish moderates, the more they can work together, the more the extremists and the murderers will be isolated.
QUESTION: Tony Walker from the Financial View. My question is to Defense Minister Nelson and Foreign Minister Downer. Does Australia retain full confidence in the U.S. management of the war in Iraq in view of everything that has gone wrong so far? And what advice do you have for Mr. Bush as he formulates a new strategy in Iraq and are you in favor of surging more troops into Baghdad to stabilize the situation?
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: Well, first of all, and you know, we are Australians and basically with our mates we don't go around bagging them for the convenience of headlines and popular -- and being sort of cheapskate populist politicians. No, we don't do that. We stick by our mates through thick and thin, and when times are difficult for them -- I mean, I think when times are difficult for you, that's when you look to your friends to see if they're really friends. And the one thing I don't think the Americans will ever find is that Australians are weak, fair-weather friends. So that's the answer to your first question.
And the second -- the answer to your second question in terms of a surge, I'll let Brendan say something about that. But in relation to the second question, the objectives need to be determined but the military need to work out the numbers that they need. I personally haven't been arguing for there to be a surge in the American military and I explained that yesterday. But you know, at the end of the day, the generals, the commanders on the ground, have to make judgments about how many troops they need to achieve a particular objective. So you don't just send troops in for the sake of numbers; you send troops in to achieve a particular objective, and I think that's how that sort of issue should be looked at.
DEFENSE MINISTER NELSON: Tony, the troop numbers committed by the United States is entirely a matter for it and, as Minister Downer says, based on military advice. And the President will in the not too distant future announce the way forward from the point of view of the United States and they're in the coalition in that regard.
In relation to Iraq, there are a couple of things that should be remembered. And that is that much of the bloodshed and the violence that we see almost daily on our television screens occurs in and around Baghdad, and in much of the rest of Iraq significant progress has been made and is being made, and Australian troops in particular in Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces are at the forefront of transition to provincial Iraqi control.
The other thing that is extremely important is to remember that much of the violence that we see and that sectarian violence dates from the bombing of the Al Askari shrine, the Samara shrine back in February, and that was inspired by the common enemy of humankind, and that is al-Qaida. No one should forget that al-Zarqawi, on behalf of Usama bin Laden, planned and inspired the bombing of that shrine.
And so for anyone to consider that we would give up on the Iraqi people, to give up on the region and indeed give up on what is a very important part of the global struggle against terror, I think is to abrogate our responsibilities to the future. And Australia and Minister Downer and I have made it very clear to the Vice President, to Secretary Rice and to other key people in the Administration that Australia was there at the start and we will see this job through.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the six-party talks on North Korea are due to resume on Monday. Do you think it would be useful to put forward a deadline for the conclusion of those talks? And secondly, are you planning on offering any new incentives to North Korea? And maybe if Foreign Minister Downer could also comment on the resumption of those talks and what the prospects are.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, we've had a very good discussion of the six-party talks. I think it's important to recognize that while the six-party talks are obviously the forum in which we are negotiating the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, we are cognizant of the fact that the North Korean nuclear program is not just a threat to the countries that are involved in the six-party talks and so we have had on the day of the test itself and have had since then several discussions about the nuclear program of North Korea. And I found very interesting at our recent discussions in Hanoi that there was from all of the ministers gathered there a very strong sense that these talks need to show results.
Now, I don't think anyone would ask us that we set a firm deadline by which if we cannot do this then the talks end. But I do think that there is an expectation in the international community that these talks are not for the sake of talks; that indeed, North Korea needs to, particularly after its nuclear test, it needs to demonstrate that it is, in fact, committed to denuclearization.
As to the package of incentives that might bring about that kind of behavior, I would just note that the joint statement of September 19th '05 -- 2005 -- does lay out a framework and makes very clear that in the context of denuclearization we would be talking about economic assistance, about energy assistance, about increased political contact toward -- over some period of time, normalization of relations and so there's a full program there. And what we don't want to do is to get into a circumstance where we're just talking about tit-for-tat, but rather keeping an eye on really important steps forward along the road of denuclearization and that's what we will be seeking in this set of negotiations.
I want to mention, too, that of course these negotiations take place in a different context. After the North Korean test, Resolution 1718, one of the strongest resolutions passed by the Security Council, did send a very strong message to North Korea that its nuclear program was unacceptable to the international community and that the international community was willing to act. And I want to thank Australia for its very strong support. We have had discussions of how to really implement that resolution and I'm sure we'll have others in the future.
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: Look, I'll only add to that a couple of things. First of all, I'm sure the Americans would want the talks to be finished by the evening of December the 24th. (Laughter.) Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen. It's a bit of a saying these days, the talks -- conclusions should be conditions-based not time-based, I suppose.
But secondly, not only do I appreciate what the United States, particularly Secretary Rice and Assistant Secretary Hill have done towards these talks, but I think it's important to remember that China has played a very important role in getting this next round of talks going. And we appreciate very much the vigor of Chinese diplomacy in recent weeks and the determination of the Chinese. The fact that China has supported two Security Council resolutions, not least Security Council Resolution 1718, which impose sanctions on North Korea. It's a -- you know, if you'd asked me three years ago whether I thought China would do that, I think I would have suspected they wouldn't.
So there has been quite a constructive and dramatic evolution of Chinese diplomacy in terms of dealing with the North Korean issue, not least, of course, egged on by the missile testing and the nuclear testing this year. But nevertheless, it's very heartening to see that. And so it's important that -- and a positive message from here goes out to China about what they've done and I hope that these won't be talks for the sake of talks; that's pointless. They've got to be talks that produce real outcomes and there are constructive ideas on the table and they should be picked up and hopefully by Christmas even, maybe a little later, but hopefully by that sort of time we'll see some real progress on this issue of the denuclearization of North Korea.
QUESTION: My question for the Secretary and Deputy Secretary. Would the United States like Australia to play a more frontline role in Iraq, particularly with regard to embedding troops with Iraqis and training Iraqi troops? And has there been any disappointment at Australia's unwillingness to embed troops with the Iraqis?
SECRETARY RICE: I -- oh, I'm sorry, let me speak to the political side of this.
DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY ENGLAND: Go ahead, please.
SECRETARY RICE: I'm sorry, I shouldn't have stepped on my colleague here. (Laughter.)
Look, I will let Gordon speak to the military side of this. But there really hasn't been any stronger supporter and ally in this than Australia. And I would never ever use the word "disappointment" in the same line with Australia. This is a country that not only in Iraq, not only in Afghanistan, not only in tsunami relief, not only in support for all that we're doing in the Asia Pacific, but also in taking really primary responsibility in places like the Solomon Islands, Fiji, East Timor, has put its resources and its assets at the disposal of peace and security in the region and in the spread of freedom. And I just can't think of a better friend and a better ally.
DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY ENGLAND: Earlier today -- I'll just add to what the Secretary said. She was very eloquent in that relationship. But I commented this morning when we signed the MOU that Australia and ourselves, we stand shoulder to shoulder, we have for a long time. Our combat troops do that today in different places around the world. They're marvelous, marvelous partners. We are talking about embedding. We do embed our military with combat troops, brigade combat teams. That said, the Australians have trained a lot of Iraqi army and police and they've done a marvelous job with that. And they actually embed in logistics and a lot of other areas with us.
So I would tell you we are delighted with the performance of our allies from Australia and, as the Secretary said, it's very few people we have that actually stand that tall with us every single day, so we're just proud of what they do every day with us. And we have no complaints whatsoever. We're just proud of what they do with us.
DEFENSE MINISTER NELSON: And just to reinforce that so everybody is clear about it, Australian troops have been embedded and have been training very successfully Iraqis in central southern Iraq. In fact, the Second Division, almost 2,000 of whom we have trained, have performed extremely well. We've got a battle group of just over 500 based at Tallil providing overwatch into two provinces, Dhi Qar and Al Muthanna. We're also providing training at the basic training center. We've also got people in counterinsurgency training at Taji north of Baghdad. And in terms of embedding, we are certainly prepared and have already been doing embedded training. But what Australia is not disposed to do is to embed our soldiers in combat units. Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Released on December 12, 2006