PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20825

Radio Interview with Matt Peacock, AM

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: 14/02/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20825

PEACOCK:

I spoke to Mr Howard after his meeting with Mr Blair, and I asked him about these reports of the Iraqi missiles.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's yet another example of Iraqi cheating and Iraqi defiance of the Security Council and Iraqi contempt for international opinion. I don't want to say any more than that, and it's up to the inspectors to confirm or vary or deny the reports. But if they are correct, then Iraq is further in contempt of her international obligations. And this is the problem. People keep talking about time. Time is not the issue. It's attitude. Iraq's attitude is that she doesn't really care about international opinion and only bends to it when there is no alternative and some pressure is applied.

PEACOCK:

How close are we getting now to war realistically? I mean Geoff Hoon says the clock is ticking. How close are we?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to try and put a time on that or even try and define it any other way.

PEACOCK:

But it is the end game, isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are approaching the end game, that's right, and it's important that Iraq understand that. If there is to be a faint hope of peace, then it will only be achieved if the international community together says the same thing to Iraq, says it strongly, says it soon. If that happens, then there is a possibility that this can be resolved peacefully, particularly if the Arab states, which carry a special responsibility, talk to Iraq and point out that defiance of international opinion cannot go on indefinitely. I mean I don't hear many people arguing that Iraq is not in contempt of her obligations. It's not as if we're arguing over the guilt or innocence. We're arguing over ways in which it can be dealt with. So surely the best way for the international community to achieve the goal we all want, and that is the peaceful disarmament of Iraq, the best way to achieve that is for the international community to act together and to say strongly and soon that Iraq has to disarm or face the consequences.

PEACOCK:

And yet you're not, as you say, you're arguing and we have the prospect today of China even indicating that it might exercise a veto. I mean, how realistic a prospect do you think it is of securing a second UN resolution that finds Iraq in material breach?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there is still a strong possibility of achieving that. I don't think you should lose sight of the fact that in the lead-up to the final outcome of these things, there are often a number of positions taken and different attitudes struck and I'm not going to hold forth on the behaviour of individual countries.

PEACOCK:

You don't think France has dug itself into a corner here though?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think any country in France's position would have dug itself into a corner. In the end, people all came on side with Resolution 1441, carried what, 15 nil. Now don't assume that in the end you won't get a lot of people suddenly coming on side for a particular outcome. We don't want a world where weapons of mass destruction spread to more rogue states because that runs the heightened risk that those weapons will fall into the hands of international terrorism, and that is the ultimate nightmare. I mean that in essence is what is the national interest at stake for Australia.

PEACOCK:

A lot of people regard a conflict with Iraq in current circumstances as a nightmare too in terms of the risk. Now, Saddam Hussein will surely have the most incentive he's ever had to use what weapons of mass destruction he might have against a place like Israel, won't he, in the event of a war?

PRIME MINISTER:

Matt, there is risk in whatever you do and in all of these situations you have to think through the consequences and I've done that, as Mr Blair and President Bush and others have done. And I've reached the conclusion that the greater risk is to pretend that if you turn your back and walk away, it will solve itself. History tells us that that never happens.

PEACOCK:

But if there is, for example, I've seen a scenario sketched here by an analyst here in Whitehall of a chemical or biological explosion in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and a nuclear response by Israel, and they certainly have said that's a prospect where against presidential palaces, the casualty rate ranged up as high as 1.7 million. I mean, do you think that sort of a scenario is even conceivable?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I'm not going to get into an adjudication of individual scenarios which in any event I haven't read the detail of [inaudible].

PEACOCK:

But I mean...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. I'm dealing with your issue but I mean Matt, I don't play the game of... unless I read the scenario and I understand all the detail of it, I'm not going to comment on it. I do know this however, that if we leave this issue and hope it will go away, the world runs the enormous risk that you will have a fatal marriage of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism. It's more likely if those weapons proliferate into the hands of rogue states. And if we don't deal with Iraq, other rogue states will say well if they can get away with it, so can we. Once you get that, you have a spreading, a proliferation, and the possibility of them getting into the hands of terrorists must increase.

PEACOCK:

Now I know you say that Saddam Hussein was first cab off the rank, so to speak, compared with North Korea, to be in breach of its international obligations, but North Korea, particularly to our region and our country has the capability to inflict much more damage as of now, than Saddam Hussein has, doesn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well North Korea is a very big threat but because North Korea is a very big threat, it doesn't mean that you just forget about Iraq, you down tools. Indeed if you were to do that, you would in fact increase the threat from North Korea.

PEACOCK:

But the North Korean threat is more direct. I mean, it could inflict damage now on many more targets than Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

North Korea is more likely to act aggressively if the world is weak about Iraq.

[ends]

Transcript 20825