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Transcript 20672

Interview with John Laws, Radio 2UE

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 12/02/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20672

LAWS:

Prime Minister, good morning and thank you so much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning John.

LAWS:

Have you had your meeting with Hans Blix?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I have and I have also met the Secretary-General of the UN. Blix will report on Friday. I don't want to talk publicly about what he told me beyond saying that on the published comments of his and the published information, although there has been some morsels of additional cooperation from the Iraqis, clearly given under pressure, there has been no fundamental change in their uncooperative attitude. But because his report on Friday will be a very important part of the process, I think it's probably better if I leave it to him to talk directly to the Security Council and to express his views. He of course will not decide whether there has been material breach by Iraq, which I believe there has been and incidentally Simon Crean who disagrees with me on a lot of things, agrees with me on that as well. What he will report on is whether Iraq has complied with the terms of the last resolution passed by the Security Council.

LAWS:

Okay. When you referred to the 'morsels', to quote you, of information - in other words, there hasn't been a great deal forthcoming, there hasn't been enough to create a sense of optimism?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't believe so, and if you look at what is known publicly, and I'm not suggesting there is some deep, dark secret that is going to be revealed - I'm not suggesting that - but what is known publicly is what the U-2 flights, and even in that there has been a bit of doubt, there are some additional documents, there are some one or two scientists once again with a lot of qualifications being interviewed. That doesn't amount to the fundamental commitment to cooperation that he spoke of when he gave his last report and clearly the world needs, if there is to be a change and hopefully some kind of peaceful solution to this issue, I think we all have to understand that we are reaching something of an endgame position. It is coming to a head. It can't be imagined by anybody that there is going to be some last minute fudge that will put things off. I don't think that will be acceptable to a lot of countries, including Australia.

LAWS:

So is what you're saying there, that war is inevitable?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, what I'm saying is that the thing has to be dealt with authentically and directly and in a conclusive way. Now if ultimately that results in military conflict, that could eventuate. I hope it doesn't. I still believe very strongly that the one hope of a peaceful solution will be if the entire international community, speaking through the Security Council, says to Iraq - you have to face up to your clearly stated international obligations. If that were to happen, there is a real possibility that the Arab states, which are in the end in my opinion very important if there is to be a peaceful resolution - they do potentially have a lot of fraternal influence on Iraq, despite the fact that their regimes are different - and the way you mobilise them or help mobilise them is to get the entire international community speaking with one voice.

LAWS:

Do you think that is possible?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's amazing, and I made this observation in my discussion with the Secretary-General, that a few weeks before we got 15 votes to nil in favour of the last resolution, the Security Council looked in disarray but finally everybody came on side with a very strong resolution. It may not look possible at present, or it may look difficult at present, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility of it. And there is a determination by obviously the British and the Americans, and sure some of the things the French are saying are very much in the other direction, but then you often find in the French statements a chink of light. You often find a phrase which says 'oh but if', which can be the basis perhaps down the track of some change. My guess is that what will happen now is that Blix will report on Friday and then the Security Council will go through a very intensive stage of discussion about a resolution. I don't think the Americans and the British have finally made up their minds as precisely what kind of language they want. They clearly want a resolution that gathers the maximum level of support, consistent with a resolution being meaningful. I don't regard another resolution as being legally necessary. It is politically very desirable because if you have another resolution, you will get more support for carrying out the objectives of the resolution and that is very important.

LAWS:

Do you get the impression, talking to Kofi Annan, that he knows the UN's credibility is pretty much on the line?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I do.

LAWS:

Yeah. Is he feeling pressured by the United States?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I didn't get that impression. He didn't say anything to me that was antagonistic to the United States. He understands very clearly, and he said this publicly, that if it hadn't have been for American military pressure, the inspectors would not be in Iraq. They all know - Blix, Annan, everybody knows that what Iraq has yielded up, morsels though it might be, what Iraq has yielded up has been as a result of pressure. Nobody thinks that Iraq will give anything very freely.

LAWS:

Okay. During the talks you had in Washington, is there a fear there that Saddam Hussein is quite successfully splitting several key alliances, including NATO?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is obviously some, how shall I put it, there is some unhappiness with the attitude of several of the European countries ... don't know that it's directly attributed but whether it is or it isn't, the result is the same and I feel very strongly that the less divided the world is, the more likely we are to solve this thing peacefully. I have no doubt that somebody like Saddam Hussein sees the ambiguity and the differences as evidence that his tactics work. I also believe that North Korea has been encouraged to behave as she has because of the difference of approach between western countries towards Iraq.

LAWS:

I watched, as I imagine most Australians did, you on television a number of times with the President of the United States. I rather felt, and this was simply my feeling because I watched closely, I rather felt that you were a little surprised at the flowery comments made by the President, genuine though I'm sure they were, and also when he said that you were part of the coalition of the willing. Was that an uncomfortable moment for you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I thought his whole statement about the coalition of the willing and I'll define what that means, I thought that was fair enough. I had no difficulty with that at all. Well, of course I'm a modest person, John, and I certainly don't get, you know, I'm not sort of used to those sorts of comments. He was very generous but on the other hand you don't feel nasty towards somebody who says kind remarks. The important thing is the association between our two countries.

LAWS:

Rather than the personal association.

PRIME MINISTER:

Rather than...but I have a good personal association.

LAWS:

Oh, I can tell that.

PRIME MINISTER:

I like him and he is a very genuine person.

LAWS:

I have no doubts about that. But I thought he rather put you on the spot with the

Transcript 20672