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Transcript 20723

Interview with David Koch and Melissa Doyle Sunrise, Channel Seven

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: 20723

KOCH:

Prime Minister, good morning and thanks for joining us. Colin Powell has overnight tended to indicate that maybe there is no need to go back to the United Nations for a second resolution. Do you agree with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think at the moment everything is so fluid, as it often is in these situations, that I'm not going to say one way or the other what might or might not happen. We have supported the desirability of the 18th resolution, not the 2nd, the 18th resolution on Iraq being passed by the Security Council, not because it's needed legally, it's not needed legally, but it would perhaps produce a more united international political commitment. That's the reason why we've supported it. Now the question of what finally emerges, whether an 18th resolution emerges or not, I'm not going to at this stage because of the known fluidity of the situation, I'm not going to predict.

KOCH:

Prime Minister, I think you'd agree Australians are amongst the fairest people in the world. We always abide by the referee. And I think the view of many people is that the United Nations, the umpire in all of this, currently says don't go to war and we haven't found any evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

PRIME MINISTER:

There is plenty of evidence of weapons of mass destruction. I mean that is... with great respect, there is overwhelming evidence that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, and whilst I'm not being driven by opinion polls on this issue, as you'll acknowledge, according to all of the polls 75 per cent of Australians believe that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons.

KOCH:

But Hans Blix, the weapons inspector, says there is not enough evidence to go to war, that he still wants more time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hans Blix is quite rightly saying to the members of the Security Council - I'm not going to make your decision for you. In the end, we have to make our minds up on this issue on its merits. In 1999, the NATO countries took military action against Serbia without United Nations approval, without United Nations approval. And the reason they didn't go to the United Nations was that Russia, an old friend of Serbia, said she would veto any resolution. But nobody then said, oh that was improper. Well some did, but the great majority of people supported that action. I mean, in the end you have to understand that the United Nations is the aggregate of the Security Council of five permanent members and ten rotating members, and I regret to say that one of the permanent members at the moment, that's France, is really using this issue to get more international political leverage against the United States, rather than, in my respectful opinion, addressing the merits of it, and I think that's regrettable.

DOYLE:

So you don't think it's improper then to go to war without UN approval?

PRIME MINISTER:

The point I'm making... well legally there is adequate authority.

DOYLE:

Morally.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well morally it depends, with great respects it depends on the merits of the issue. It really does. And then morality is something that in the end, each individual person and nation has to take a view on. And my very strong view is that if Iraq is allowed to retain chemical and biological weapons, other rogue states will develop theirs. The more rogue states that have them, the greater the risk that they will get into the hands of terrorists, and if terrorists get them, they'll use them. Now that in essence is my argument, and that is an argument that I hold to very strongly.

DOYLE:

It seems that many remain unconvinced of the link between Iraq and terrorist activities. I mean even the CIA, MI6 is saying there is no clear link. Our own intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie quit this week, saying there is no link. Is that not a problem? I know that you are saying that how much proof do you need before we have a Pearl Harbour?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that is. I mean, with respect, if you wait until you have proof beyond reasonable doubt, frankly it's too late. I'm asking people to consider the simple proposition that if a country like Iraq, which has been aggressive in the past, has chemical and biological weapons, if she is allowed to keep them, others will do the same, and the more countries like that that have them, the greater the risk is that they will get into the hands of terrorists and they will be used with very lethal effect. Now that, in essence, is the argument that I'm putting. Now I know that some people disagree with me. Of course they do. This is a democracy. I think Australian public opinion is divided. There are some for, some against, and there are a lot in the middle.

KOCH:

If it is a democracy, why won't you put it to a vote? We've had a number of viewers email in and say, hey put it to a vote, at least in the Parliament. Let our representatives represent us.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in the past, decisions on this have been taken by the elected Government, and I've said before if at the time of the next election, the people are unhappy with the decision that the Government has taken, well they will have the opportunity to express their view then. But always in the past, when Mr Hawke as Prime Minister in 1991 in the first Gulf War, the Cabinet took the decision, then it was debated in Parliament, and on this occasion the same thing will happen. And there will be a vote in the Parliament, but the decision will be taken by the elected Government. That is how our system works. That is our responsibility, and that is how it will be handled on this occasion.

DOYLE:

Obviously we have to align ourselves with the United States. I understand that they are our biggest ally, and you're not going to, you know, dramatically go against them. But do you regret going so hard, so early in following their stance? Have we not been backed into a corner on this, that now should you want to change your mind, we almost can't?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the question of us agreeing or disagreeing with the United States, of course our alliance is very important. As far as our long-term security is concerned, the United States is very important. But I don't regret in any way the stance the Government has taken. The Government has taken this stance because it believes it is right. We don't always agree with the United States. We didn't agree with the United States on the International Criminal Court. There are many aspects of trade policy where we are fiercely critical of the United States. On security matters, we normally have broadly similar views, but not always. We have some differences of emphasis in relation to North Korea. But fundamentally we have the same value systems and people should never forget that America is more important to Australia's long-term national security than any other nation.

DOYLE:

Can I ask you about North Korea? You touched on it, you mentioned it briefly there. I mean, are not other areas more of a concern? Should we not be more worried about North Korea, the fact that they're saying, they're admitting to having nuclear weapons. They're certainly doing more than the Iraqi regime is doing at this point. Should we be addressing them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we certainly should. But so far from North Korea overshadowing Iraq, the problem of North Korea means that we've got to deal effectively with Iraq because if the world community can't discipline Iraq, I don't believe it has much hope of disciplining North Korea.

KOCH:

I think it's summed up, Prime Minister, by an email from a viewer Don Walters in Adelaide in South Australia. He said, I have a high degree of respect for you as a person, I believe you're honest, genuine and a principled statesman. Whilst I support your position on disarming the Saddam regime, I'm more than concerned that you, together with various intelligence agencies, have fallen victim to a corrupt and arrogant US administration who is stacking the deck for their own political agenda. And I think that sums a lot of what ordinary Australians are saying.

[break in transmission]

PRIME MINISTER:

I want to thank that person for his or her kind remarks, but can I say that the American regime is not corrupt. I think that's a very unfair thing to say. America has got a lot of flaws, and when you're the most powerful country in the world, people always throw rocks at you. But to say the American administration is corrupt, gee it's got a lot of ...

KOCH:

I think it is more underlining the stacking of the deck in terms of information.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't accept that. What people should remember is that the United States was attacked effectively on the 11th of September 2001 and that has changed forever the mindset of American people about their security and about their relationships with the rest of the world. And I don't think enough European countries understand that.

KOCH:

But again, there is no direct link between September 11 and Saddam Hussein. There is no direct link between Bali and Saddam Hussein.

PRIME MINISTER:

But there is a very direct logic process, if I may say so, with a situation where if you allow a country like Iraq to keep chemical and biological weapons, and others develop them, inevitably the prospects of terrorists getting hold of those weapons, having access to them, stealing them, using them, must multiply. That's the argument I'm putting. I was talking about 11th of September in the context of the changed American attitude to their vulnerability and their security. That's the point I was making.

KOCH:

No doubt about that.

DOYLE:

Prime Minister, thank you for your time. Apologies again for a few technical hitches there. But we do appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 20723