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Aust./U.S. Joint Press Conference, Defence

Link to 2005 Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations - Joint Communique:

DATE: November 18 2005

TITLE: Joint Press Conference – AUSMIN

PARTICIPANTS: Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer

Australian Minister for Defence, Senator Robert M. Hill

United States Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld

United States Deputy Secretary of State, Robert B. Zoellick

ALEXANDER DOWNER – FEDERAL MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, ladies and gentlemen, first let me begin by saying that it’s been a great pleasure to have Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Zoellick here with us for the last, what, twenty-four hours for AUSMIN. We’ve had a wonderful time, and I’ve been delighted, as has Senator Hill, to bring them both for AUSMIN here in Adelaide. The first time AUSMIN has ever met in Adelaide, and both Senator Hill and I are very proud to show off our home city to our friends from the United States.

I just want to take the opportunity of thanking the Lord Mayor Michael Harbison and the Adelaide city councillors for their gracious hospitality, and also to the Premier of South Australia Mike Rann who’s had the opportunity of meeting with both Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Zoellick.

We’ve had very full discussions. I’ll just touch on two or three things and pass to the others. But we had a very good discussion about counterterrorism, and we have been impressed with what the Indonesians have been achieving in recent times, and the cooperation between Australia and the United States on counterterrorism is absolutely first class.

We have very good cooperation, more broadly, around the region, and it was a good opportunity for us to discuss regional issues of a great variety. And naturally enough, we talked about both Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the case of both of those countries, our respective deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it’s an opportunity also for us to discuss non-proliferation issues.

But it’s been a really excellent twenty-four hour period, and we very much appreciate the time and energy that’s been put into it by our American friends and I think you can readily say it’s been a most successful AUSMIN.

I’d ask Secretary Rumsfeld if he’d make a few remarks.

DONALD RUMSFELD – UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be back in Australia, and particularly to be here in this beautiful city, and we thank the people of Adelaide for their warm hospitality.

On 22nd December 1941, forty-six hundred American soldiers marched off transport ships, docked in Brisbane, their voyage to the Philippines having been diverted some days earlier. Pearl Harbour had just been attacked, Darwin would be bombed several months later. Those servicemen would be the first of nearly one million US troops who eventually would pass through Australia over the following four years during World War II.

Since that time, needless to say, the American and Australian troops have worked together closely in every major conflict, in peace and war, to defend the cause of freedom and to keep our nations safe.

For six decades, the close friendship and alliance between our two democracies has been a force for peace and for prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

As the Minister said, we’ve had some very good discussions today, and I have found the AUSMIN meetings to be very important, to see that the relationships between our two countries continue to stay strong and healthy, and we have benefited greatly from it. So, together, we recognise the importance of fighting and winning the complex and unconventional war in which both of our countries are involved.

Thank you so much.

ROBERT HILL – FEDERAL MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, I just repeat our appreciation that our American counterparts have been prepared to travel from Washington to Adelaide to meet with us to discuss matters of mutual interest in the national security arena.

The issues that I’ve been particularly concerned with are issues of current operations where we’ve been working closely together with the United States throughout Afghanistan, peace keeping missions elsewhere. And also, from the ADF’s perspective, issues of technology transfer, sharing of intelligence, joint training, those sort of things that help build the mutual capability that we’re bringing to bear, particularly in the war against terror, but also have that capability that’s need for other circumstances.

DOWNER: Thanks Bob.

ROBERT B ZOELLICK – US DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, let me just say how pleased I am to be here with so many good friends, both the ones in the government, some that I see from outside.

I had my first opportunity to visit Adelaide in 1999 under an Australian Visitor’s Program and if anything, I’ve just seen the city get more beautiful over the course of the past six years. So it’s a real delight to be back here.

I was also reflecting this morning that I was in Australia almost exactly at this time November 2002, when we launched the Free Trade Agreement with the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Vaile. So I’m really delighted to be back here in the first year that we’re starting the implementation of what I hope will be an historic economic part of the relationship that we’ll match what we have on the political and security side.

And I’m pleased that we’re continuing to work closely together on some of the issues of the global economy. I know when we launched the Free Trade Agreement, some people were concerned about how it would affect our common interests in the global Doha agenda, the WTO. We have Australia and United States working side by side trying to push for greater liberalisation first in agriculture, but other sectors as well.

So I just want to thank our colleagues because I think what these discussions show me is the depth of the alliance partnership that we have. Alexander gave you a good set of the scope of issues, but for me it always gives me a good opportunity to listen and to learn, because Australia’s got some pretty unique vantage points from its expertise in the region, from which we benefit. So I just thank them for inviting us and such a beautiful location and for the opportunity to work with them.

Well, are there any questions? Paul?

PAUL KELLY- THE AUSTRALIAN: A question for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Can you tell us if the meeting … Paul Kelly from The Australian newspaper. Can you tell us if the meeting looked at a possible new mission for the Australian forces in Iraq, beyond the current Australia-Japan mission when that expires next year?

And can you also tell us whether the Bush Administration would like to see Australian forces involved in some new mission beyond that current Australian-Japan mission?

RUMSFELD: Yes, sir. I’m kind of old fashioned. About five years ago when I came back to this post I decided that I would prefer to let other countries speak for themselves about things that involve their country, so I’ll leave it to one of the ministers to discuss their interest or respond to the first part of your question.

With respect to the United States interest in having countries participate, that’s clear. There’s no question but that in Afghanistan, in Iraq, the contributions of a large number of coalition countries has been significant. They’ve done a superb job, they have contributed to the progress, the solid progress that we’ve seen in both Afghanistan and in Iraq and to the extent that countries want to participate in that. We think it’s a terrific thing and we encourage it.

But in terms of what took place in the meeting, I’ll leave that to the ministers from Australia.

KELLY: I wonder if I could just clarify that answer, Sir; does that mean that the Bush Administration would like to see Australia involved in a new military mission beyond the current Australian-Japan operations?

RUMSFELD: I thought I answered it pretty well. I kind of liked my answer.

HILL: To say that we have about 450 troops in Al Muthanna, but that’s part of a total force of about 1350, so we’re only talking about, you know, part of the commitment we’ve made to the Middle East area of operations.

In relation to Al Muthanna, we are training the local Iraqi security forces and we believe that that task will be complete by about the middle of next year. They should be able to manage their own security concerns at that time within that province.

Our other major task is, of course, providing security support to the Japanese humanitarian mission. We’re waiting to hear from the Japanese, as to whether they’re going to extend their mission, but certainly, there are many who now seem to have the view that they are likely to stay until the middle of next year.

If they do that, we can cover that okay, because our current rotation expects to be there until about May of next year. If the Japanese decide to stay longer in that particular task, then we would - and they wish continuing security support from us - we would need to consider that around about February of next year, in order to - if we’re prepared to do that, to provide for another rotation. So, that’s where we are in relation to (indistinct) at the moment.

DOWNER: And another thing about that, I think the only point to make is that the broad position of our government on this whole question of troops is that, given the current deployments we have, if they come to an end as Senator Hill has described, then we would look at the situation at the time as to whether we would take up some new opportunity, or whether we wouldn’t.

I mean, we just have an open mind about that at this stage, and we just have to wait and see what the situation is on the ground. I mean, you’re talking months from now, so it’s hard to know what the situation precisely will be at that time.

DANIEL STREET – NATIONAL NINE NETWORK: Mr Rumsfeld, Daniel Street from Channel Nine Australia. You say Australia’s involvement in Iraq is more than token, that it is valued. I’m wondering, what do you say to Iraq’s Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who says that the area in which Australian troops are based is the safest in Iraq, and that there is no need for them to be there, particularly after next month’s elections.

Do you take his word on that? And if he does want troops in that province to leave Iraq, would you accept that? And if I can get your response, Mr Downer, as well.

RUMSFELD: Well, I don’t want to comment on what he said, because I don’t have the context, I don’t know that what you’re saying is precisely the full context of what you’re saying he said. But …

DOWNER: (Indistinct)

RUMSFELD: Well, I just don’t know, I haven’t talked to him about it. But the fact of the matter is that the Iraqi people have benefited enormously by having some 25 or 30 countries participate in the coalition effort in that country. We now have something like 211,000 Iraqi security forces that have been trained, and equipped, and deployed throughout the country. It is not a static situation in the country, it’s dynamic. And as these forces are better trained, and better equipped, and more capable, they are taking over more and more responsibility within that country.

And so, what you’ll see over the period ahead is that the Iraqi security forces will be handed over responsibility for pieces of real estate, for certain types of missions and assignments. And as that happens, the people who were engaged in those activities will, in many cases, assume other assignments and responsibilities; in many cases assisting - help to train additional Iraqi security forces.

And I think that the idea that you can pinpoint one particular situation, and then generalise it throughout the country would be a mistake. That just isn’t how it works. It is a fact that the bulk of the security incidents that occur, occur in four of the eighteen provinces. And that’s a good thing. And part of the reason that’s the case is because of the effective job that’s been done in the remaining (inaudible) and the need for additional security forces, and better capabilities in the four, where the major number of security incidents occur.

DOWNER: Look, I can only say that I haven’t heard that the Prime Minister had said anything. I heard a report on the ABC, of a comment that a spokesman had made, and … yeah, I don’t know at all, at this stage, about the context of those comments. And the fact is that no such message has being transmitted to the Japanese, or to us, or to the British, who have an overall responsibility in the Al Muthanna area, so I’m just not sure of the context of these remarks.

But our overall position is that, obviously, on the 15th of December, the Iraqis are going to elect a new parliament. And this will be another, I think it will be a successful part of the democratic evolution in Iraq and it’ll be a very important part. But this will be, if you like, a permanent parliament. From this new parliament will be formed a government and the new government will develop its own policies on these questions and we’ll have to wait and see. But look, we take it, as the secretary has just said, we take it month by month and look at the situation and look at the security situation and take into account the standing up of the Iraqi security forces and judgments will be made on the basis of those things by the Iraqis by our coalition allies, in particular the United States and by we, ourselves.

But as Senator Hill was saying as things currently stand, the expectation is that the Japanese engineers who are deployed in Al Muthanna Province, for whom we’re providing a secure environment are likely to stay until about May or June next year. The Australian presence there isn't a stand-alone presence obviously. It is linked to the presence of the Japanese.

I think I’ll move a bit faster here.

MIKE SMITHSON – CHANNEL SEVEN: Mike Smithson from Channel Seven, Australia. This is a very parochial question. You're in Adelaide. Did you discuss David Hicks, and from a personal point of view, can you see that Adelaide people, the images we see at Guantanamo Bay, that it could be seen that he is being kept in barbaric conditions?

RUMSFELD: Well, I’ll leave it to my colleagues here to discuss what we discussed. The situation on Mr Hicks, of course, is well known. There were plans to go forward with a military commission and a federal court intervened in the matter and for the moment we have to let the judicial process play itself out. And we’ll be seeing that over the coming weeks and months.

With respect to the latter portion of your question, the situation in Guantanamo Bay has been looked at by literally hundreds of journalists, by hundreds of members of the United States house and Senate, by the International Committee for the Red Cross which has been there since the outset and has in fact physically been located there during much of the period.

Uniformly, people who go there come away saying that it is being handled in a highly professional manner and that the treatment that’s being provided people in Guantanamo Bay is excellent treatment. And the facilities have been invested in substantially. The treatment of the people there is considered to be a (inaudible) - by all people I've talked or who have been down there (inaudible).

Now, if there are situations that you're going to read about in the press because, as we know, we … materials were captured that are called the so-called Manchester document, where … it’s the training manual for terrorists. And the training manual teaches the terrorists that the thing to do is to allege that they’ve been mistreated. And they do. And so every time there’s an opportunity for some person who’s been captured, to get to the press or have his lawyer get to the press, they frequently allege mistreatment. And you're going to continue to hear that. But the fact of the matter is, if you talk to the members of the House or the Senate, or the journalists or the International Committee for the Red Cross, the people who have been to Guantanamo Bay, I think you’ll find, uniformly, that they have high compliments for the manner in which the facility there is being handled.

DOWNER: I’d just say, look, we touched on the David Hicks issue, but only just, because there are 228 Australians being held overseas who are facing courts of one kind or another, in a whole variety of different jurisdictions. And in every single case, we provide consular assistance as best we can and David Hicks is no exception. But on the other hand, David Hicks is facing charges. He faces three charges, one of them conspiracy to commit war crimes; the second one is attempted murder. They’re serious charges. We expect those charges to be heard in the American jurisdiction, which is where he’s being held, and it’ll be a matter for the military commission.

There aren’t special rules that the Australian Government applies to people who are held, for example, on terrorist charges, as against people who are held on drug trafficking charges, or whatever they may be. They’re all held. We expect them to face trial within the jurisdictions within which they’re held. And when the courts have made their decision, then if they’re acquitted they’re released, and if they’re not, they serve their term.

ROY ECCLESTON – THE AUSTRALIAN: Roy Eccleston, The Australian, Secretary Rumsfeld. You talked about solid progress in Iraq, but doesn’t the discovery of these hundred and seventy-three prisoners in the Interior Ministry undermine, in a sense, that Iraq is heading towards being a fair democracy, aggravate the political divisions within Iraq itself, and suggest that, perhaps, it’s heading back to some bad old ways.

RUMSFELD: Well, needless to say, any time someone is mistreated, it is damaging, and unfortunate and wrong. The President of the United States, from the outset, has required that prisoners that are captured by the United States be treated humanely. All the instructions in our government, in the Department of Defense, have also required that prisoners be treated humanely, and they are.

The situation in this case is, apparently, there’s a breaking story that some Iraqi prisoners being held by Iraqi security forces have been mistreated. I don’t know the facts.

What we do know is that the situation is being investigated by the Iraqi Government. I’m told some of these people were discovered by American forces, and that it’s being, we’re cooperating with them and assisting them to determine what actually took place. As the legal process in Iraq works its way through, we’ll find out.

I think, first of all, let’s say something that’s terribly important. The situation in Iraq has been improving in this sense. They have gone from a country with a repressive dictator that put hundreds of thousands of human beings into mass graves over decades. A repressive dictatorship that was giving twenty-five thousand dollars rewards to the families of suicide bombers. And today, it’s a country that has gone from electing a parliament, to fashioning the constitution, to having a referendum on that constitution on October fifteenth, to preparing for elections, December fifteenth, under that new constitution. And that is enormous progress.

Now, does that ever happen perfectly without a bump in the road? Of course not. But the battlefield is not Iraq, in a sense. The battlefield is in the media, in this country, in our country and all across the world - the terrorists know they can’t win a single battle. They know that the only place they can win is if they can outlast the nations that are willing to invest in trying to help that country become a democracy.

And so they’re doing, they’re very clever. They have media committees, the terrorists do, and they’re very good at managing the news around the world. And is it hurtful? Yes. Are they good at it? Yes. Are they better at it than we are? You bet you they are. But are they going to prevail? No, they’re not going to prevail.

Over time, we are going to have this election on December 15th, and there’ll be imperfections. I mean, the election will be a legitimate one, but people will point their finger and say this, or point their finger and say that. But then they’ll have a new government and it will be the Iraqi Government. And I have no doubt in my mind but that you’ll see, over the coming year, opportunities for those people to continue to grab a hold of their country and put themselves on a path towards democracy. It’ll be a single country, it’ll be a country at peace with its neighbours. And it will be a representative country that’s respectful of all of the elements within that country. And that will be an enormous accomplishment.

If you think about it, Afghanistan went from where the Taliban ran that country. They used the soccer stadium to behead people. You couldn’t fly a kite, you couldn’t whistle, a woman couldn’t go out on the street without a male member of her family, and if she didn’t have one she couldn’t go out. And she couldn’t go to a doctor because they didn’t have women doctors.

And where are they today? They’ve got the first popularly elected president in five thousand years. They have an assembly, a congress, a constituent assembly. They have Afghan security forces that are being developed and contributing to the security in that country and they are making solid progress.

Now, you don’t read about that anywhere. You don’t hear about it. But it is an amazing accomplishment, what’s taken place in Afghanistan, and it’s thanks to countries like Australia and countries … and NATO now has a big role there. And the progress is taking place.

Iraq’s several years behind that, but Iraq has all kinds of opportunities. They have wealth, they have water, they have oil, they have intelligent people. They’re in a tough part of the world and is it going to be perfectly smooth, the way forward? No. It’s going to bumpy. There’ll be times when it’s ugly, but by golly, I think they’re going to make it.

That’s it.

GEOFFREY BARKER – AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW: Geoffrey Barker, Australian Financial Review. I ask this of both sides, really.

Current US and Australian declaratory policy is that troops will not be withdrawn until the job is done. That’s the … will the job be done in your view, when the Iraqi forces are judged able to contain the insurgency? Or will you require other social and political conditions to be satisfied before you’re prepared to consider troop reductions?

DOWNER: Well, I think, that from Australia’s point of view the real issue here is that the Iraqi security forces are able to, as you put it, contain the insurgency and are able to take responsibility for the security of the country. I think that is, for us, the overwhelming priority.

Obviously insofar as social conditions can be improved, that’s important, but if the insurgency isn’t contained, it won’t be possible for social conditions to be improved. But look, for us, the real priority is to ensure that the Iraqi security forces are stood up and efficient and effective enough to the extent that they are able to control and deal with the insurgency themselves, rather than foreign troops have to do that job.

HILL: The Iraqi people and the Iraqi government don’t want the international forces to remain any longer than is necessary, but at the moment they recognise that they can’t answer this insurgency without the support of the international community. That support’s just received a further endorsement through the UN Security Council. Be interesting to hear the views of the new Iraqi Government when it comes into place early next year. But as things stand at the moment, the support of the international community from a security perspective remains essential.

DOWNER: Okay. Don, do you want to say anything?

RUMSFELD: No, I’m fine.

DOWNER: Well, one last question.

PHILLIP COOREY – NEWS LIMITED: Philip Coorey from News Limited. Secretary Rumsfeld, I just want a communiqué about joint training and from Senator Hill you might like to answer this as well, about the possibility of B-52s, B-1s and B-2 bomber training exercises in the Northern Territory of Australia. Could you tell us when you’re sort of planning to begin these and would any of those bombers be nuclear armed or otherwise.

RUMSFELD: Again, this fits my pattern. I let the people from the country describe things that may or may not occur in their countries, and I’ll leave it to the minister.

HILL: We have provided support for training to strategic bombers in the past, but not for some time. The US has asked us if we would be prepared to start a new program along those lines to assist them in long-range training. As you know, the US is going through this process of transformation in the region, which means that it doesn’t necessarily have to have the current mass up front, able to project power from further afield. And we’ve said we’d be happy to support that training. It would start in the New Year. It may be aircraft that come down, to Australia, from considerable distance, and use our bombing ranges, and then return with our landing; and there will also be occasions when the aircraft will land, and utilise facilities at Darwin.

So we think it’s just another example in which we can be helpful to our allies. And obviously, if they’re coming down to use our bombing ranges, they won’t be using nuclear weapons.

REPORTERS: (Inaudible )

DOWNER: No, we don’t have a (indistinct). I think we’d better wind it up there. I did say one last question. We’ve had one last question. Now we’re getting into, you know, gender, and so on.

STREET: Mr Downer, last year in Beijing you said (indistinct) treaty is a treat in which (indistinct) the Australia-US Alliance. Military activity elsewhere in the world does not automatically invoke the (indistinct) treaty. Do you share with the US the same common, strategic objectives on (indistinct) to provide military support to the US in the (indistinct).

DOWNER: We’ve always just made the point that it’s an entirely hypothetical situation, and in foreign policy, you definitely don’t destroy your relations with great swathes of the world by speculating that you’re on a threshold of going to war with other countries when you’re not.

Okay. Thank you.

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