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Aus. Senator Hill: US Visit/Iraq/North Korea/Bases

Aus. Senator Hill: US visit, Iraq, North Korea, US bases

PRESS CONFERENCE Embassy of Australia Washington, DC Tuesday 18 November 2003

US visit, Iraq, North Korea, US bases

Senator Robert Hill:

As I think you know, my main purpose for visiting Washington is to see Mr Rumsfeld, and that is not until tomorrow. However, there might be some matters of interest to you and obviously somebody thought there are things that you might want to ask me.

I am seeing him, obviously, about our operational experiences, particularly in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I will be interested in hearing from him of his experiences in north Asia and his current assessment of the North Korean issues. I think there are some things that I could say to him from my recent visit to Baghdad. We'll talk about interoperability issues. Some of you will remember at last year's AUSMIN meeting we settled principles of strategic interoperability, and we set about a project to do more on tactical interoperability and quite a lot of work has been done on that over the last twelve months. We will talk a little about defence industry matters. Of course we have settled our updated Defence Capability Plan and it has some consequences in relation to the United States.

Apart from seeing him, I am pursuing some defence industry matters whilst I am here. I met with Lockheed Martin yesterday to principally talk about the AEGIS system on air warfare destroyers in our Defence Capability Plan. Last week we settled on a project to obtain three air warfare destroyers, and we further indicated that the air warfare system will be the United States system. As the Lockheed Martin system is the one that is principally used throughout the world, it was useful for me to be briefed on the detail of the system, in particular, the future evolutions of that system. Not only has it been provided to the United States Navy, but they have provided the system, or versions of the system to Japan, Korea, Sweden, and Norway. So, it is rapidly becoming the international system of choice.

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I have also talked to Lockheed Martin about the Joint Strike Fighter project and had briefings today from the Joint Strike Fighter project team. Presuming Australia purchases the aircraft, which is the direction that we hope we are heading in, it will be the largest individual purchase of military equipment in Australia's history. We are investing in the design and development phases, as you know, $300 million over ten years. We have people placed within the project office. We are also pleased that a number of Australian companies have been able to obtain contracts and there are a few more contracts we expect to be announced in the next couple of weeks. Some of them are quite small, specialised Australian companies and this is really their first experience in the international defence industry market. And I think it is fair to say that we are really quite pleased with the progress that they are making in relation to the development of the aircraft; we are also pleased ! with the progress of the aircraft in terms of capabilities, timelines, and so on.

I'll also be meeting with Northrop Grumman to discuss further the Global Hawk Unmanned Air Vehicle. As some of you will know that was referred to again also in the Defence Capability Plan as an important part of our future maritime surveillance capability. It will be the first time that the ADF has moved into a large unmanned aerial vehicle and it will be interesting to receive their briefs on how that aircraft is proceeding. Certainly, the briefs that I have had on its performance over Iraq was most impressive. Our particular interest is of the maritime surveillance variety. The US Navy is about to take two of the aircraft and enter into experiment and trial period for several years with that aircraft and we would be interested in some opportunity to join with them during that process.

So, I met with Rich Armitage today and we also exchanged experiences of Iraq. He was there a day or two before me. He went on to Saudi Arabia and of course was there shortly after the explosion and his feedback was of interest to me on that particular issue as well. So, these are opportunities that we think are important, particularly at times where we are on a high operational tempo and times when, obviously through coalitions we are experiencing each others' capabilities and learning to work closer with each other in terms of our national security. Because of the visit of President Bush we have skipped the regular AUSMIN meeting this year, and this now enables me to catch up on some of the feedback that we would have otherwise received at such a meeting. And I think I will leave it at that.

Journalist: Senator Hill, with regards to Iraq, President Bush has been saying over the last few days that the US would still have a military presence after June 30 next year - where does that leave Australia's eight hundred or so who are still there? Will they remain as well? Would you have to negotiate some arrangement with the new Iraqi Government for them to remain there or have you given any thought to that?

Senator Hill: Well, we obviously think as far ahead as reasonably possible, but we don't make decisions that far ahead. We regularly review the force structure that we have. We did that a little while ago. We think the size of the force structure is about right. We think that the work it is doing is, in terms of our capabilities and contributions we might make, are about right. We are interested in providing some further support in terms of training the new Iraqi army and maybe the navy but we would do that within the force size structure that we settled on some time ago. How long our force will be there is something I can't answer at the moment. Our position is that the job that they are doing at the moment is important and they are making a useful contribution and therefore it is in Australia's national interests that certainly for the time being they should remain.

Journalist: Can I ask you about your talks with Mr Armitage, and also regarding the apparent change in direction in, or shift in direction, in US policy in Iraq? I wonder how much that aspect was discussed (inaudible) and whether Australia was consulted about this shift in approach in Iraq before that policy was announced?

Senator Hill: I met with Mr Bremer in Iraq, in Baghdad, a few days before his trip back here, and we talked about the slow process that was being adopted by the Iraqi governing council and the desirability for an early, or an earlier transfer of responsibility than what was becoming the case. I met with the Iraqi governing council itself and discussed the same issues, and I said to the Iraqi governing council that in my observation, momentum was important and that I was concerned that the process that was being adopted whilst they saw it as important in terms of legitimising their position was a slow one, and that I wasn't sure that there was really the time available. And I talked about, this is just in discussions, not for me to tell them what to do, but I talked about other models and I talked interim governments and the like, and interestingly, but coincidentally, what was subsequently decided was something along those lines.

Journalist: Were you actually involved in the ...?

Senator Hill: No, well, after Mr Bremer came back here and went back to Baghdad, they settled on a different formula, but what I said to Mr Armitage today was that I thought the direction of the so-called change in policy was sound; that in my view, it is important to maintain momentum across the whole suite of areas, be it building the economy, or in terms the security issues, and certainly in terms of governance. I think it is important that as soon as reasonably possible we get to the stage where those who are in Iraq to help provide security are providing support for an Iraqi form of government rather than the current situation.

Journalist: Does Australia see a role, an expanded role for the United Nations now that this decision has been made to transfer the power (inaudible) and also, do you see a need for a change for security arrangements when the transfer of power takes place instead of the United States really running the operation (inaudible)?

Senator Hill: I do think it is important to internationalise the security contribution as much as is possible. There are over 30 countries at the moment with forces in Iraq, which is more than most people realise. But there are sort of major omissions as well, and I think that it is important that the Iraqis see a broad suite of the international community supporting them in this task of providing security. In relation to Australia's attitude specifically to the UN, I suppose that really should be directed to Mr Downer but I called at the UN on the way here, and I said I believed it was important that they did maintain, or did return and did play a significant role for the future. The debate was then really about what role. Obviously after the horrible experience that they had it is understandable to see a reluctance to return in the near future. When I was passing through New York they were holding meetings in Cyprus to try and determine the way ahead and I have not seen the outcom! e of those discussions. But I do think it is important that the UN as the, I guess, most representative body of the wider international community does play a role, and I hope that they will not only play a role, but play a growing role.

Journalist: Can I follow up? The first point about the military, how do you internationalise that? How do you (inaudible)?

Senator Hill: Well, they have, what I am saying is I think they have succeeded more than what is appreciated. There are others who would wish to see a different mandate given to the United Nations before they would contribute forces. And there are others who are likely to contribute forces but are somewhat, I suppose, have delayed their contribution a little as a result of the security environment. In relation to the UN mandate, the governing council was required to report back by mid-December. I expect that that is going to occur, but it will be in terms of the new way forward. And it may well be that the Security Council, it certainly is an option for the Security Council, to take a look at it afresh and look as if it might contribute more. And the point I made in New York is that, you know, whatever may have been the position in the past, we now face a different position in Iraq where we all have an interest in supporting the Iraqi people as they strike out with an opportunity of! freedom and a better future. That is something that whatever a state might have believed before the war, presumably that state would now endorse, so we should all look at ways in which we can help that process achieve the outcomes that are generally sought.

Journalist: Minister Hill, (inaudible) attack on the Italian forces (inaudible) Spanish Ambassador, what we have done about reviewing security not only for our forces but also for our agricultural aides (inaudible), all these civilians in Iraq? Has this been re-looked at since the (inaudible)? And the other thing briefly I wanted to ask you about, Mr Blair and some of his advisors are raising the issue about how to include the Sunnis in this new formula and try to reduce the violence coming out of that area ...(inaudible)?

Senator Hill: No, not of the latter, not on the latter point. On security generally we are in a fairly constant state of review. It is the matter of highest of priority to us and we take the best possible professional advice and we act upon it. I had the opportunity in Baghdad to look at the security that is being provided to our civilians and whilst I am not a specialist, they do have the advantage of an Australian military force that has a dedicated responsibility to protect them and they are good at their job. We, I think, we don't take chances in this regard and if we are advised to do more, we would do it without hesitation. I met with the Australian civilians, they are all in good heart, they believe that the work they are doing is important which it is, and I think that they are also very conscious of the security issues and understand the risk. They also have considerable faith in the ADF detachment that is specifically there to protect them.

Journalist: Have you drawn down the numbers at all, either post-the attacks on the Italian forces or the previous attacks? Have you reduced their numbers?

Senator Hill: No, we haven't reduced the numbers. I think there were still a few that were out of the country at the time that our civilians - our civilians were temporarily moved out of their hotel and I think some of those, I guess it was less than a handful that were out of the country - were still waiting for that settle down before they return. But there has been no decision to reduce the civilian commitment.

Journalist: Al-Rashid or some other hotel?

Senator Hill: No, it's not the Al-Rashid. I have forgotten the name of it.

Journalist: Senator, have you been aware of any specific threats made against Australians or Australian interests in Iraq, or have been plans to use violence against Australians been thwarted?

Senator Hill: In relation to the latter, I don't know of any instance of that. In relation to threats generally there were some suggested threats and that's why our civilians for some time were moved out of this particular hotel. That's right, Carthage - it's not far from where the representative office is. So, and that was a typical example, when there was this threat, and, whether it was valid we don't know, but we acted immediately, then reassessed the situation and when the advice from security specialists was that it was safe, they returned.

Journalist: And have those sorts of threats been on-going or was that (inaudible)?

Senator Hill: No, I don't remember any other as specific as that.

Journalist: How long ago was that threat? Was that around the same time as the (inaudible)?

Senator Hill: Well, there are threats from time to time. That one now, I suppose was about a fortnight ago.

Journalist: Could we go back to the issue of the United Nations (inaudible) - are we pressing the United States to involve, engage the United Nations more on the ground in Iraq, especially as regards to the holding of these town meetings or caucuses to elect a provisional government, or interim government? And do we think it is desirable that the UN should have some role in that, a greater role in that?

Senator Hill: Well this is only a couple of days old now, the new plan for the caucuses and the like, and I have been away in that time. And I'm not sure what has come out of the Foreign Minister's office on that, but generally speaking, I think that we would welcome a greater UN role if the UN was prepared to offer one.

Journalist: With a UN role, you mean the actual caucuses and selection of these people ...?

Senator Hill: Well, I don't think to be frank and given the time frame I don't think the UN will want to engage itself in that detail. I am not even sure whether the UN will be there. But that was why I was speaking generally. The more we can internationalise the support for the Iraqi people, I think the better the outcome. And the UN has a role to do that if it so wishes, but up to now the Security Council has been so divided that it really hasn't been prepared to assume that role.

Journalist: Just to clarify, with this new structure, they have outlined the CPA will be heavily involved in organising these processes and meeting people...[inaudible]...put in the caucus ...[inaudible] ...will Australia have a role in that?

Senator Hill: Well I don't know the answer to that, its really too early. But we have people within the CPA fulfilling both general and specialist roles. They are there to be useful, if they can be they would.

Journalist: Could I ask you about North Korea? In your discussions with Armitage, did you get any sense of the US attitudes to the talks in ... [inaudible] ... Beijing in December. And in your opinion is there a chance for some progress there apart from an agreement to meet again as they had in the last talks they had?

Senator Hill: I didn't specifically deal with North Korea with Mr Armitage, as I am doing that tomorrow with Mr Rumsfeld.

Journalist: But what do you know so far, how does Australia view the developments of the last few weeks? We've seen North Korea, showing their willingness to come to the table ... ?

Senator Hill: Well we're supportive of the process. Realistically a diplomatic way forward is the only way forward in relation to North Korea. We're pleased that it is, again, internationalised through the six party talks. We've been pleased with the role China is playing, which we think is critical. So we think its going to be a long and difficult negotiation. In many ways we're still at the stage of trying to properly appreciate North Korea's aspirations. But it's a process that is vitally important, and if we can do anything to support the six parties to the negotiation, then we would wish to do so.

Journalist: Did you come away from Baghdad more optimistic or pessimistic [inaudible]?

Senator Hill: I was last there in April, and I thought there were a lot of optimistic signs since April. There is a lot, there is a lot that's happening on the ground that gets very little coverage, but yet is really, you know, hopeful. The establishment of the ministries, the education system is up and running, power and water and the essentials are now back to pre-war levels, except the distributions changed a bit, it's a bit more equitable now. The poor get more hours of power, and some of the elites get less. From Australia's point of view, with its contribution to agricultural sector, they've just harvested a million tonnes. And there is a lot more we're doing to help build that sector. 80 per cent of the country's now got local government. People are out in the streets, families are sort of going about their business, a lot of small enterprise now that's obvious to any body who's there, even for a short period of time. Unfortunately, these gains are overwhelmed by the violence. So m! y view is that its quite delicately poised. Because it's not only violence against the coalition, its violence against the Iraqi's who have been prepared to play a leading role in building the new Iraq. So, that's why I say it's important to maintain a momentum, and the Iraqi people have got to see that they will be the winners through this process even though in the short term it might be a difficult process.

Journalist: When you say it's still delicately poised, are you saying that there is a risk of failure?

Senator Hill: No, no, well it can't fail. What I'm saying is that, my concern is that the, that I wouldn't want to see the confidence of the Iraqi people, particularly those who are prepared to take the risk and provide a lead being undermined, and that's why maintaining the military pressure is at the moment so important.

Journalist: Given Australia's involvement in planning the war, presumably, as we were one of the three main countries, do we accept any responsibility for the failure to plan ahead properly...[inaudible]...much criticised...[inaudible]... do we share any of that blame?

Senator Hill: Well I, whether we're blamed I guess is the determinant of others, but the reality is that nobody really knew what the position would be after the conflict phase. And I think its fair to say that there was an underestimate of the potential for this ongoing, guerrilla type tactics by those who would be losers; the former Baathists, the fedayeen, the intelligence services, the more indoctrinated military that now have no future in the country. And the issue is to address it. Apart from particular sporadic instances most of the country is now relatively stable, and relatively safe. But within the Sunni triangle, it is still very dangerous. Now I don't think it's a question of fault, I think that these things you could plan all day, but until you face the reality, you don't really know how its going to work out.

Journalist: And to weapons of mass destruction, are you shocked that you haven't found anything after seven or eight months?

Senator Hill: I'm surprised yes.

Journalist: Does that take away, how do you know that seven or eight months down the track [inaudible] weapons of mass destruction ... [inaudible]? --tape break --

Journalist: Would you have still gone in? Had you known seven months ...?

Senator Hill: We went in because of what we believed to be a threat associated with weapons of mass destruction. You know it wasn't a question of whether they had the weapons, it was a question of whether and how they might use them. We equipped our forces in the expectation that they may well have to confront chemical weapons or biological weapons. We made them all have anthrax injections and the like. We didn't do this because it just seemed like a good idea at the time, it was on the basis of the best intelligence available. Now I am surprised we haven't found weapons of mass destruction because we've known that he's had those weapons, both chemical and biological, and we anticipated that he still had them.

Journalist: Why do you think you haven't been able to find them?

Senator Hill: Well I met with the Iraqi survey team, and talked with David Kay and a number of his officials, and basically the jury's still out. It may be that they were destroyed some time between the two wars, it may be that they've otherwise been disposed of. His evidence is tending to point in the direction that in the last few years Saddam was rather concentrating on the delivery systems, on his missile program. One of the theories is, in the knowledge that he could quickly reconstitute the war heads if that was his choice. But as Kay says, he needs more time, he's put in an interim report, we're expecting another report in the new year. And we'll wait upon that.

Journalist: And Senator Hill did you get a chance to talk to the Australian members of the survey team and as far as you know, their findings do they ... [inaudible] Dr Kay's findings? In other words, there has been a member of the survey team quoted here, he seemed to be less sure of actually finding evidence of WMD.

Senator Hill: Well no, I met with the Australians, and in particular him. And there was no difference between them and Kay. They see themselves as all part of a team. They're seems to be some confusion in a piece written I think, for the Washington Post wasn't it, that reported him talking about nuclear weapons when he was talking about a conventional capability. That's his particular job and expertise, and that's what he was talking about, and he subsequently wrote clarifying that, and I think Kay did as well. There was no difference between the Australians on the team, and others on the team as to where it is reached at moment.

Journalist: Just going back to the plan for the Iowa caucuses in Iraq, are we, are you convinced, are we convinced that this plan, that this will work? That it will legitimise a new Iraqi authority, I mean, you know, how confident are we about this plan B. After all plan A didn't work?

Senator Hill: Well the shortcoming in plan A, in my view, was the time it would take, because that's inconsistent with what I think is important which is maintaining a momentum. There's no doubt that this body, the Iraqi body, needs a legitimacy, but it also needs to be established faster than what was going to be the case. Because without that you can't get a transfer of power, and you can't move to a situation where we're supporting Iraqis in their future. Now, I don't think there's any perfect model. This is one, this a model clearly that the Iraqi governing council is satisfied with, even though out of it, most or all, some, may well lose their jobs. So I think that that give you some confidence, and of course it's only, it's an interim, it's a transitional process. And ultimately it will allow the time that would be required to develop a constitution on the basis of a full constitutional convention elected by all Iraqis, but that is a long and complex process. This is an attempt to b! e able to allow a transfer of powers in the meantime, and as I said, I think that's sensible policy in these circumstances. The issue of legitimacy will be ultimately one that the Iraqi people will decide, but I think, my guess is that most Iraqi people would in the meantime, accept something that they might think is less than perfect if it means a return to Iraqi government.

Journalist: Just on the actual [inaudible] if I could briefly ask you, because there's so much confusion, ... the so-called basing issue, versus forward placing equipment in the new sort of arrangements in Australia. Can you just explain what you think the Americans are trying to do ... ?

Senator Hill: Well the debate originated with the force structure review and whether that would lead to American bases in Australia. And somebody suggested that it would, and we said we couldn't see any reason why the Americans would want bases in Australia, it didn't seem to follow what they were seeking. And the Americans said no, that wasn't their intention because it didn't fit their goal either. But we did at that time say there might be scope for further joint training capabilities, because that's much more in line with what, as I understand it, is intended, and that is to be able to project force rapidly without necessarily the large troop establishment at forward bases. So, and it really hasn't gone any further than that, just discussions about whether there should be any further training capabilities. There have been no discussions about them basing equipment in Australia, despite what I read.

Journalist: ...and tanks in Darwin ...?

Senator Hill: No, no American tanks in Darwin. And Australian tanks would be based in Australia, if I could repeat what I said the other day.

Journalist: And training, jungle warfare training in a base outside Townsville?

Senator Hill: No, no. We do obviously quite a bit of joint training and multilateral training now with the Americans. And the issue is really whether we'll do more, or whether it might become more sophisticated in the future and those issues are still being discussed. Singaporeans of course have equipment that they leave in Australia, but nobody is writing that story, they've left it in Australia for years.

Journalist: Is your decision on the Aegis and the air warfare destroyers, does that take you a step closer to joining the missile defence program the United States is still pursuing? Does it bring you closer to, stepping into that...

Senator Hill: It doesn't, not in terms of whether we decide to, in principle, join the program. In terms of if we decided to join their program, and we had an Aegis system air warfare destroyer that may be a way in which we could contribute to the program. Certainly the Americans have a program in which they're looking for a role for their Aegis systems, and they've had three successful intercepts already. But that would mean an upgraded, a further software upgrade than what we would have in mind. And it would also mean a different missile than what we would have in mind. So but if Australia, some time in the future decided to go down that path, then that could be a stepping stone towards such a contribution.

Journalist: [inaudible]

Senator Hill: Yeah the Government will make a decision in due course and announce it.



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