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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20675

Press Conference with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London

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: 20675

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

Ladies and gentlemen, it's been my pleasure to welcome Prime Minister John Howard of Australia here. He's been in Washington and in New York. He'll be seeing our Prime Minister tomorrow. But the specific reason for him being here is to attend the memorial service at Southwark Cathedral later on this afternoon for the victims of the atrocity in Bali on October the 12th. We in the United Kingdom lost many victims but Australia suffered its worst ever terrorist atrocity and our hearts go out to all the victims. I also would like to say Prime Minister how deeply grateful we are in the United Kingdom, and I know I speak for the families and friends, for all the assistance and help which you gave to the families of the victims who were British as well as to everyone else. And the support they got could not have happened without the efforts of your government but above all of your people.

We've talked about the common cause which we have against terrorism. We are also in exactly the same position with the government of Australia in respect of Iraq and the need for full compliance with 1441. And the Prime Minister and I have been talking about that. That will form part of the discussions tomorrow morning with our Prime Minister. And our position is very clear that time is running out but there still remains a hope for this matter to be resolved peacefully but the choice for its resolution by peaceful means rests with Saddam Hussein. He's got to understand the determination of the United Nations when it unanimously passed 1441 that at long last he really has got to be disarmed of his weapons of mass destruction. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thank you very much Foreign Secretary. Can I say in relation to the Bali tragedy that it was in many respects a shared tragedy for our two nations and I will by attending the memorial service be conveying particularly the condolences of the Australian government and the Australian people to those British families who lost loved ones in that terrible incident.

In relation to Iraq can I say that it remains the very strong view of the Australian government that if there is to be found a faint hope of a peaceful solution it can only be if the international community speaks with one voice. Those who argue that their guiding light is a peaceful solution should understand that that can only be achieved if people speak and act in unison. It will not be achieved if people do not speak and act in unison and that is something that I've....a view that I've conveyed in other places and it's a view that I've conveyed to the Foreign Secretary and I know he shares it, and I'll be conveying it to the British Prime Minister Mr Blair when I see him tomorrow.

Can I also say that I believe that the stance that's been taken by the British government, and not least of course the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, on this issue has been principled and strong and determined and I've respected the stance that Mr Blair has taken on this issue from the beginning. It's not easy. This is an issue that has caused anguish to a lot of people. Nobody wants military conflict, nobody. And nobody has a monopoly on hatred of war. We all hate war. We all recoil from the very thought of it. But unless the world understands that we are living in something of a new dispensation where the twin evils of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue states can come together with terrifying consequences, unless that is understood then we may well in time pay a very heavy price as an international community for not doing something. Now that is our view, that is my very strong view, and I hope that we can achieve a second resolution. I had very useful discussions, as my Australian colleagues travelling with me know, in both Washington and New York and I think it's a very important element of those ongoing discussions to talk to the British government and to the Foreign Secretary and to the Prime Minister.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

Thank you very much Prime Minister. I'm afraid time is short because we both have to leave for the memorial service. So may I take two questions from Australian representatives and two from British ones.

JOURNALIST:

A question to both of you. Could I get your reaction please to the alleged tape of Osama bin Laden played by the al-Jazeera network?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the preliminary assessment of the agencies is that it is bin Laden. That's the preliminary assessment. The words, of course, people will interpret them in different fashions. Many will argue that the tape is evidence of certainly a commonality of purpose in present circumstances at the least. I think it's a view that many people will take and I think others will also take the view that naturally, and I hope without serious argument, that the national security and foreign policies of countries can't be dictated by terrorists.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

I'll just add to that that it is clear I think that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein do not share an ideology but they do share a common cause in their belief that terrorism can be used to effect their political ends. And Iraq have done many evil things since Saddam Hussein took over. One of the things that he's done is actively to sponsor terrorism in a number of countries.

JOURNALIST:

You mentioned terrorism being part of your discussions. From your reading Foreign Secretary, the international terrorist situation, is John Reid right, is the threat to this country now on the same scale as September the 11th?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

Well what we did when we discussed both pieces of intelligence that were before us at a full meeting of the Terrorism Committee of the Cabinet on Monday was to make the best assessment that we could and to agree with the recommendations we had received from the police and the security services and agencies about the appropriate level of the response and that is why the troops have been deployed in assistance of the civil power at Heathrow and the surrounding area. Can I take a question from Australia please?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what's your response to the claim from Nigeria that you're not an honest broker on Zimbabwe?

PRIME MINISTER:

You're talking about the President's letter?

JOURNALIST:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't accept that. There's nothing in the arrangement whereby the Chairman of the last Commonwealth meeting remains as the Chairman in Office until the next one that in any way restricts or interferes with or impedes that person's right as prime minister of his or her country to pursue national policies that it sees in its own interest. So I reject that completely. My view about this and I'll be discussing it with the Commonwealth Secretary General and I discussed it with the Foreign Secretary is that almost a year ago here in London we agreed on a suspension for a year on the understanding that there would be movement in a number of areas. The evidence available to me suggests there has been no such movement and in those circumstances it would be my strong view and the view of the Australian Government that the status quo, that is a suspension, should continue until the matter is dealt with by a full meeting which will be in Abuja in December this year.

JOURNALIST:

Foreign Secretary, on November the 19th in the aftermath of the scare on the London Underground, the terrorist threat, the Prime Minister said if it is in future a very specific threat against a specific target then of course it's right that we issue the information. The troops have been deployed but we have not had any information.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

We have to make our own assessments in the best way we can and having done that ensure that appropriate measures are put in place, bearing in mind our paramount concern and responsibility which is for the security and safety of the public. We made the assessment. It was very thorough indeed, extremely thorough. We've taken the appropriate action and the police have issued their explanations as to why that action has been deemed necessarily. And I do ask people to accept that the key judgements we have to make in all these situations are what's necessary to maintain security and safety of the public and that's what we've done. Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST:

Your tip for the soccer tonight?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'll be both courageous and patriotic.

JOURNALIST:

Are you going Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would very much like to but I have a family commitment. As some of you know one of our sons lives in London and we have but one opportunity to have some brief private time with him tonight and I hope the Socceroos will understand.

[Ends]

Transcript 20675