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Armitage Discusses Free Trade, Terrorism, N. Korea

Armitage Discusses Free Trade, Terrorism, N. Korea

Interview with The Australian October 10

A free trade agreement with Australia remains one of the administration's top priorities, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said in an interview with The Australian October 10.

"[I]f it's fairly equitable and it betters both our situations, then we certainly are keen on it," Armitage said, noting that "about a month ago he [President Bush] had made it very clear to all of us that he wanted to move Heaven and earth, if possible, to get an agreement before the end of the year."

Armitage said the United States appreciates Australia's help in fighting terrorism and said that Australia has "done more than her share in Iraq."

"[W]e want to continue all the very important elements of our relationship on this issue, such as intelligence sharing," he said. "And we will continue to look for ways to make our ability to work with Australian forces more facile."

In response to a question on North Korea, Armitage said that the United States has "engaged in discussions with all those whose equities are most dear, particularly those at the six-party talks, but we've kept our Australian friends informed all along the way and will continue to do so."

"We will be prepared, when we have talks, to sit down in good faith and thrash out all these issues," he added.

Armitage stressed that North Korea's nuclear activities are a multilateral issue and said it was ironic how "many have been encouraging the United States to work on this bilaterally" while "accusing us of being unilateralist."

Following is a transcript of the interview, as released by the Department of State:

Interview by The Australian
Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State

Washington, DC
October 10, 2003

(2:00 p.m. EDT)

QUESTION: So, generally speaking, I've got a few questions on general Australian topics, then I want to get on terrorism, terrorism and Bali.


QUESTION: The first up, on the Free Trade Agreement, you know, Australia's wondering at the moment whether you guys are serious about this FTA. There's been an inadequate offer on agriculture, according to the Australians.

Is America still keen to go ahead with this, and is the President going to be pushing this in Australia?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I haven't talked to the President about this, but about a month ago he had made it very clear to all of us that he wanted to move Heaven and earth, if possible, to get an agreement before the end of the year. And those were our operating instructions.

I believe we're in a negotiation with two of our respective, most important sectors; agriculture being the issue of the day, so I suspect we'll have a lot of give and take.

QUESTION: So you think there's some room to move in the American position on agriculture?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I didn't say that. Maybe I'd ask that the Australian position moved. I just noted that this was a negotiation.

QUESTION: Right. And you guys are still keen on an FTA, though?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, absolutely, and I'm sure what I'm going to you is the same as the position of Australia; that is, if it's fairly equitable and it betters both our situations, then we certainly are keen on it.

QUESTION: And do you think it can be done by the end of this year? Politically that seems to be pretty important.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, that's something that my colleague, Mr. Zoellick, would be more competent to answer, but I know that, as I say, about a month ago the President really put the heat to us to try to get it done.

QUESTION: Do you think that's something that -- obviously it's going to come up in Australia -- do you think he's going to be repeating that sort of comment in Australia?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think he'll be saying if we can get a fair agreement all around, let's move Heaven and earth to get it.


The trip's just been announced although, you know, some of us have known he was going for a while. I mean, what -- do you know what the President's message will be to Australians?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I have no doubt that the President's main message would be of gratitude to the people of Australia for sticking with us and to encourage our Australian friends to stay in on the global war on terrorists. It's still with us and it'll be with us for a while. And I think, in the main, it's to say thank you to the people of Australia.

QUESTION: And what about more that Australia can do? Is the President or the U.S. keen for Australia to contribute more, for example, in Iraq?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think Australia's done more than her share in Iraq. I think that, thought, we want to continue all the very important elements of our relationship on this issue, such as intelligence sharing, et cetera. And we will continue to look for ways to make our ability to work with Australian forces more facile, but I don't think there's any particular thing on the President's mind other than to say thank you.


Now, on North Korea --


QUESTION: -- the Secretary said in early September that you guys were going to be talking with allies about what -- this is a quote I'm reading -- "talking with allies about what kind of security assurance would be satisfactory to all of us to provide to the North Koreans so that they'd feel comfortable in taking this step." And the step he was talking about, you know, verifiably ending their weapons program.

That was in early September. Has there been any progress? Are you guys talking about some sort of regional security agreement here? What's happened on this?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, we've had progress in that we've -- we think that there will be another talk. Some North Korean official or other today even made some comment that we'd be having another series of talks.

We have engaged in discussions with all those whose equities are most dear, particularly those at the six-party talks, but we've kept our Australian friends informed all along the way and will continue to do so. And we will be prepared, when we have talks, to sit down in good faith and thrash out all these issues.

QUESTION: Does that provide security assurance?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we'll see where that goes. Let's see what these North Koreans have to say.

QUESTION: For certain, but, I mean, do you guys want to multilateralize that idea, as well as the talks in general? I mean, you've been very keen to, sort of, make this a multilateral issue. I mean, is that the sort of --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we do believe it's a multilateral issue. It's ironic, isn't it, that many have been encouraging the United States to work on this bilaterally when, at the same time accusing us of being unilateralist. (Laughter.) So we're trying to keep it in the multilateral framework, and I don't want to get into the specifics of what we may or may not offer like that.

QUESTION: On Bali, --


QUESTION: It's Australia's -- Australia's -- you know Australia pretty well so you don't need to be told that Anzac Day is one of the great Australian days. Well, that's a day about, you know, courage and deceit.

Bali is another day when we look to be commemorating a loss. You know, are Australians safer at home and abroad today than they were a year ago?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: 88 Australians were sacrificed in that horrible bombing, and I think that Australia is safer in that Australia, like the United States, like all of us, are much more aware of the dangers we face. I would say that -- that your neighbor to the north has become much more aware after the tragedy of Bali, and the sentencing to death of three people for their participation means that, to that extent you're somewhat more safer. But that in no way allows us to let down our guard.

QUESTION: In terms of the threat, I was reading some comments by a fellow called Rohan Gunaratna, I think his name is --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yes, he's a very expert observer of the radical Islamic scene.

QUESTION: Okay, so he said this week that al-Qaida had been diminished greatly in the past two years and that the threat now is from splinter militant groups trained, financed, perhaps ideologized by al-Qaida. What -- now, we're talking about in the Southeast Asia, Asia region. What's your thought on that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think he's got it pretty right. I was just in Afghanistan and Pakistan yesterday, where the Pakistanis had just struck a major blow against al-Qaida by taking out seven or eight of their operatives and capturing, I think, as many as 17 more.


DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: And put this on top of 550 arrests for terror that Pakistan's been engaged in, so that has to be considered a blow to al-Qaida, but these folks have a way of working around and soon they're kind of like mercury. They slip through one crevice or another and seem to reconstitute.

QUESTION: So al-Qaida, what I'm trying to get at is al-Qaida itself still a force? Or is it the other one, the other group?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Al-Qaida is still a force, but it is a somewhat diminished force. But we have JI to contend with.

QUESTION: And what about the links between JI and Al-Qaida? Are they clearer to you after the Hambali arrest and the interrogation?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Oh, I think they're clearer to all of us after that arrest and I would note that Pakistan recently, I believe it is, arrested 18 JI operatives in Pakistan.

QUESTION: But what does that tell you?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: It tells us they were trying to hook up with their mentors a bit.

QUESTION: So, being forced out by the heat in Southeast Asia or --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I'm not competent to say that, but I would certainly trust that's the case, for all our good. But they'll go somewhere else, and they'll try to reconstitute.

QUESTION: So with the information you're getting from the Hambali -- I mean, there was a story recently that money had come from Khalid Sheik Mohammed to Hambali, and was being used for JI funding, including blowing up the Marriott in Indonesia.

I mean, is it that? Is it not just ideology? Is it actually financing, as well, would you say, transferred from al-Qaida to JI?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I will not speak of the particulars of KSM or Hambali.


DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: But, more generally, it is the -- what we call a facilitation of these various groups that has made al-Qaida particularly dangerous because they allow -- facilitation can take -- can be money, it can be free movement, free, sort of, succor, in various locations. And this is one of the things that al-Qaida has provided to other groups intent on terror.

QUESTION: You mentioned Indonesia before. Do you believe that Megawati Sukarnoputri is now doing enough?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, it's like -- well, I don't like the way you asked the question. It's like asking if Mr. Howard is doing enough, or George Bush is doing enough. Who's to know?


DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We do the best we can. I think, in Indonesia's case, that there has been a huge change after the Bali bombing, and that, as I say, the fact that people were tried, and tried publicly, was I think a lesson that Indonesia wanted to share with others.

QUESTION: To others in the --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, other militants.


DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We're not frightened of you, and we'll let everyone see the horror that you deal with.

QUESTION: So, in a sense, is the turnaround -- has the reaction of the Indonesians to the tragedy of Bali been a positive one, and that gives you some hope that, in fact, that the enemy can be defeated? I mean --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think there is no question the enemy would be defeated. But I would have -- I mean, you can say anything that you like. I would have said that the early dramatic results of the Bali investigation is a sort of proof positive there had been a sea change in attitudes in Jakarta. But I'd say that, equally, the lack of sort of uproar domestically accompanying it is a good sign.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have time for one or two more questions?


QUESTION: Let me just have a look at what I have failed to ask you. Now -- yeah -- I mean, you are an old Asia hand. I mean, how did it come to pass that we missed the growth of groups like JI? Apparently, it's been around 10 years. How did we miss all this?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think in Asia -- I'll speak for myself.


DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We've always spent a lot of time and attention on sort of the easygoing lifestyles of our friends, whether it's Malaysia, or Indonesia, or Thailand, and sort of, as they'd say in Thailand, the "mai pen rai" attitude, "never mind," and we didn't go beyond that. We didn't look -- you know, peel back the onion.

And now we've seen, to some extent, that the easygoing lifestyle is a very accommodating climate of these places actually was an ideal area for which the terrorists could multiply.

QUESTION: And, of course, you mentioned Megawati, but she was at the UN recently. And I don't know how her talks went the President, but in public she was sort of saying that, you know, alleged U.S. spies to Israel, and the Iraqi war had made things worse with the Muslim community. I mean, was he playing mainly to her and the constituency there, or do you think --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: You would have to defer to her, but we had very good talks with her -- she did with the president.

QUESTION: Right. A couple of other quick questions.


QUESTION: Commercial aircraft in the Southeast Asian region, there has been a lot of speculation recently about handheld missiles. I mean, how serious a threat do you guys consider this to be?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Globally -- I can't speak in Southeast Asia particularly -- but, globally, we've got a major effort against what we call "MANPADS," manned portable air defense equipment, of which Stinger-type SA-7, SA-18, center. We've got a major global effort out there because there are far too many out there, and they're far too dangerous.

We've seen them fired even off of -- at least the remnants of them -- off of airbases in Saudi Arabia in the past year, so we've been lucky.

QUESTION: Final question, Mr. Armitage. The President said the terrorists have to be found, fought, and defeated. And Dick Cheney, I was reading his speech just before you rang, he was talking about the only way that Americans could protect themselves, you know, is to destroy the terrorists before they can launch more attacks.

Now, in Southeast Asia, it's one thing to -- in Afghanistan and Iraq. How do you do that in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia? How do you put that into play?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think you deepen and bring to flourish your intelligence relationships with those countries, and through that I think you have joint operations where terrorists are found. That's the way to do it.

QUESTION: Are you stepping that up, those joint operations? I know you have in Philippines. What about other countries?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, without -- we have tried to step up our intelligence relationship with almost every country, but I won't get into specifics of that.

QUESTION: Well, look, I appreciate it.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I just, believe you me, that October 12th, for Americans who are interested in Australia and interested in Asia, it will not go -- it will not pass unmentioned and un-thought about, let me tell you.

QUESTION: Well, I'm sure that's right.


QUESTION: I appreciate your time.


QUESTION: Thank you very much.


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