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Transcript 20722

Interview with Steve Liebmann, Today Show, Channel 9

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: 14/03/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20722

LIEBMANN:

Prime Minister, good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Steve.

LIEBMANN:

You gave it your best shot yesterday and yet it would appear you still haven't convinced the doubters that they should now support going to a war that most of the rest of the world and it would seem a vast number of Australians don't support. What more can you do?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Steve, I'll continue to argue that if countries like Iraq are allowed to keep chemical and biological weapons, other equally rogue states will develop theirs and as more have them, as it spreads, as a matter of logic the danger of them falling into the hands of terrorists will multiply. That's the core of my case. Now the question of public opinion, it's important : in the end of course it determines governments. I understand that. But as Prime Minister I have an obligation to listen to people but then make up my mind and then go out and argue what I believe. And I do believe it's in the best interests of Australia to take the stand we have and I'm still entertaining the hope, faint though it is, that we may be able to achieve a peaceful disarmament of Iraq but we won't achieve that peaceful disarmament if we continue to have spoiling tactics from, say the French, who appear intent on saying no to everything irrespective of its merit.

LIEBMANN:

Prime Minister, can I put this proposition to you: you've made the choice, Australia will go to war with the United States with our without UN support.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Steve, we haven't taken that decision. The Cabinet will decide that when the United Nations' process has been exhausted. Clearly we are in a position to do that because we've put our troops there. I've never denied that. But the reason why we haven't finally taken that decision, and that is not a decision of mine alone anyway. It's a decision that has to be taken by the Cabinet. And the reason we haven't done that is that you never know what might develop at the last moment....

LIEBMANN:

Well then.....

PRIME MINISTER:

....and to take a decision.....well Steve, this is a very important....I mean it goes to the way in which you sensibly conduct government and if you rob yourself of the opportunity of reacting to a last minute unexpected change by taking a premature decision, that's bad government. What I've said is this: we've put ourselves in a position to act. Clearly we are in a position to act, clearly we have done more than any other countries except of course the Americans and the British. That is undeniable. But what I've said all along is that the final decision will be taken by the Cabinet after we know the outcome of the processes in the Security Council. That has always been my position and it continues and I think it's sort of pointless arguing the toss about that because that is how government works.

LIEBMANN:

Okay. So are you saying if diplomacy fails we will stand with America and Britain and we'll move on Iraq? Are you saying you'll then go to the.....

PRIME MINISTER:

No, what I'm Steve is what I just said. I mean I understand why you put that to me, I understand that. But what I'm saying in reply is very simply this: we are in a position to commit to military action, processes are going on at the United Nations, and until those processes are finalised we're not going to take the final decision. It would be foolish to do so.

LIEBMANN:

Well let's talk about those processes of the United Nations. I mean, you created the impression yesterday in your speech to the Press Club and the nation that there is an element of urgency in all of this. How urgent is it though if the Bush Administration is prepared to tread water to save Tony Blair's skin? Because that's what's happening.

PRIME MINISTER:

When you say tread water you're talking about a few days. I mean if the Bush Administration had not shown the willingness to allow the discussion to go on for a few days they would have been roundly condemned everywhere as being too hasty and too bullying. I mean for heaven's sake, to allow the discussion to go on over the weekend is hardly treading water. And in any event the stand taken by the British Prime Minister is admirable. He's arguing a very strong case and I admire the courage he's displaying as a Labour leader.

LIEBMANN:

Prime Minister, Colin Powell has now told the US Congress that America might not even go for a Security Council vote. Would you prefer that that resolution not go back to the Security Council if the vote says it's against the wishes of the majority of the Security Council?

PRIME MINISTER:

Steve, we're at a situation now where you have a resolution on the table and there are all sorts of variations being kicked around and I'm not going to answer that hypothetical question because I know how these things work. Suddenly out of the corner you get some further compromise that might attract support and I'm just not going to make myself a hostage to the outcome of a particular resolution. We all know that there's a process going on at the United Nations. We all know that the British and the Americans are endeavouring to find some kind of international consensus. I regret to say that the French are playing a spoiling role. They don't appear to me to be trying to find a solution. They appear to be trying to advance France's prestige in the international community vis-a-vis the United States. I think that's regrettable and it's not helping trying to bring about a peaceful solution. I mean I really still believe that every one of the 15 countries got behind a resolution that said simply you disarm or we're coming after you, and the Arab states joined with that same kind of message, you might possibly get a peaceful solution, you might. But while ever.....

LIEBMANN:

But you know that's not going to happen.

PRIME MINISTER:

Steve, I don't think that's going to happen but you're asking me what my view is. I think it's regrettable that the spoiling role that some countries have played have made that kind of outcome quite unlikely, next to impossible. But it doesn't alter the fact that I have always seen that as the way in which you might achieve the desirable double - that is, a peaceful solution but also the total disarmament of Iraq. But Iraq must be disarmed. We cannot afford to allow a rogue state like Iraq to retain chemical and biological weapons. Others will do likewise. North Korea will not be disciplined by the world community if Iraq is not disciplined.

LIEBMANN:

Prime Minister, you say you and your government are still not committed to going into Iraq. Can you give me a scenario then where the United States says we're going and you say Australia isn't?

PRIME MINISTER:

Steve, I'm not going to play that kind of game, I'm sorry, with respect and I do mean with respect. This is a very serious issue and it's not something for word games. I have stated our position. We are there. Everyone knows that. Our troops are ready. We have not given a final instruction, we will not take a final decision until we know everything that's happened at the UN. Then we will very quickly as a Cabinet take a decision. That will be communicated to the Australian people and it will be debated in Parliament. Now to ask me to hypothesise about what I might do in such and such a situation, I'm not going to do that. We're playing for real here. This is a very serious issue and it's not the kind of thing that should lend itself to that sort of response.

LIEBMANN:

Can I ask you one final question then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

LIEBMANN:

When we look at the bigger picture, are we watching the breakdown of the US multilateral alliance system?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think what we are watching is a very different response from different countries to the way in which the world was changed on the 11th of September 2001. I don't think Europeans, some Europeans, fully understand the change of mindset in the United States after that attack. I don't think they do.

LIEBMANN:

Do you think Australians....

PRIME MINISTER:

I think Australians are more understanding than the Europeans. I don't think they feel the same way as the Americans because the attack did not occur on our soil. But I do believe that they are a little more understanding. I mean we are living in a world that's quite different from the one we both grew up in where you thought of aggression in terms of the armies of one country rolling across the borders of another. We're not dealing with that situation now. We're dealing with a new and different menace of international terrorism and if international terrorism gets its hands on chemical and biological weapons that is an awful and lethal menace to all the liberal democracies of the world and Australia is no exception. And that is why I feel strongly about this issue. I don't think the Europeans understand that, or some of them don't understand that in the same way that Americans do and they have to understand the sense of vulnerability that the United States felt as a result of the 11th of September.

LIEBMANN:

Why doesn't a country like France though, and I know you're rushing for time, but just on....

PRIME MINISTER:

No I'm happy to....

LIEBMANN:

Just on that point you just made. I mean if you're so firmly convinced that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda are just waiting to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction similar to those that Saddam Hussein has inside Iraq, why don't the French appreciate that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Steve, I think there are a number of reasons. I think France has always regretted the relative rise, well not the relative rise, the absolute rise of the United States as the pre-eminent world power. I think France regrets the fact that Europe is no longer as powerful vis-…-vis the United States as she used to be. I mean economically it's no where near as powerful, the population of Europe relatively speaking is declining to that of the United States. I think there are elements of this issue being used as an opportunity to reposition France and Germany in the world. Now I understand how they feel and I have great affection for the French people, but I think it's regrettable in the context of this issue. I mean it doesn't seem to me that France's first priority is to find a peaceful solution. I think her first priority is to position France vis-…-vis the United States and I think that's a pity.

LIEBMANN:

Prime Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[Ends]

Transcript 20722