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Transcript 21510

Interview with Stan Grant CNN Television

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: 13/10/2004

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21510

GRANT:

Welcome to the programme. Congratulations on your victory, Prime Minister. I want to ask you first of all...

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much Stan.

GRANT:

I want to ask you first of all about Iraq. Now internationally I suppose [inaudible] to judgement here and looking at it very much as a referendum on your decision to be involved in the war in Iraq, that may be overstating it, but to what extent was it a factor?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the issue was there, it wasn't the dominant factor, but clearly our opponents did not see it as a major negative and they didn't really pursue the issue. I think there was divided opinion in Australia on whether or not we should have gone into Iraq, but the overwhelming majority of Australians believe very strongly that having gone there, we should stay and finish the job and they rejected the notion of the premature withdrawal of our forces until their job has been completed. And that, of course, is a view that I put very strongly.

GRANT:

You mentioned there that many people were opposed to going to war in the first place. In the months since and what we've seen was the reason for war that so called weapons of mass destruction now being discredited, do you now give some thought to perhaps that was the wrong action that war was too hasty?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't believe that. I think the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein and this issue's been debated ad nauseum, but my own view would not have been different if I had my time over again and I think it's very important at the present time that we send a very strong signal in the fight against terrorism all around the world and certainly, the leadership that President Bush has given in the fight against terrorism around the world comes through very strongly. Even people who disagree with him will respect the strength of the leadership that he's given on that issue and it's very important to the worldwide effort in the fight against terrorism.

GRANT:

You mentioned there President Bush, come November there may be a new President in the White House, John Kerry. The view you're expressing there that you don't regret the action in going to war, bit different to what John Kerry is saying, isn't it, he's saying that perhaps other options should have been explored and he would have looked at those other options before rushing into war.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that's an issue for the American people to decide, but speaking as the leader of one of the Coalition countries, agree with him or not on particular issues, George Bush always sends a very clear cut strong view and in the end in politics that is very important because often people will vote for you because they respect the strength and consistency of your view, even though on a given issue they may not agree with you.

GRANT:

Are you saying that you could work more effectively with George Bush than you could with a Kerry Administration?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't seek to take sides in what is a domestic decision for the American people, but my respect and regard for George Bush is very well known. I've found him a very consultative person to deal with. This idea that he just unilaterally decides things and tells other people what he wants to do has not been my experience and I respect him very much both as an individual and a very strong leader and I think that the strength of his stand against terrorism has been very important.

GRANT:

Prime Minister, what do you say to those in Asia who are concerned about that relationship between the United States and Australia, comments in the past about Australia being America's deputy sheriff in the region, comments you made about Australia perhaps taking pre-emptive action if Australian interests were at stake, Australia's security was threatened. How do you relay those concerns to people in the Asia region?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't think they are as real as is reported. For example, a couple of nights ago I took a phone call from the Prime Minister of Thailand with whom I have a very close relationship. Our association with the United States is not a problem with a country like Thailand. Our association with the United States has not been a problem with China. Our relationship with China has grown and deepened in the time that I've been Prime Minister. The Chinese understand the history behind the American-Australian alliance. They understand that that alliance is not directed against China, it is directed towards the security of Australia. And I believe that the involvement that we have with the United States adds value to our relationship with the countries of Asia. It is possible to be close to both the United States and to the nations of Asia and we've demonstrated that over the last eight-and-a-half years.

GRANT:

I want to steer your attention to the comments you made about pre-emptive action if Australia's security were threatened. Do you stand by that and in what circumstances could you see that action being taken?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't think it would ever be likely that it would occur. What we've basically said, that if you face the situation where a country in which a threat was gathering from terrorists - I'm not talking about the countries themselves because we don't see ourselves as having any enemies in the Asian Pacific region - we see all countries in that region as being countries with which we have close and friendly relations. All we've ever said is that if a situation arose where another country were unwilling or unable, as a last resort, we would take action to save Australian lives and protect Australian assets. Now, I would have thought any leader of a country would be willing to say that whether he's the Prime Minister of Australia or the Prime Minister of a country in the region. But I don't ever see those circumstances arising. We have very close security alliances with countries like Indonesia and the Philippines and Singapore and Malaysia. We've worked very close with the Indonesians in the wake of the Bali attack to find those responsible. We have a good understanding, of course, on security issues with the Japanese and with the Koreans. So I just don't see these issues arising but I was asked to state a principle and I stated it and I think it's a very unexceptionable principle and I think most people understand it.

GRANT:

Prime Minister, you raised a couple of issues there - you say that you don't see a circumstance where you would have to take pre-emptive action but you also mentioned attacks that have been targeted at Australians - Bali, the recent attack at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta - what sort of assistance are you looking for, particularly from Indonesia and the new President there, Yudhoyono, in trying to curb the threat to Australia and deal with groups such as Jemaah Islamiah?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we've had very good linkages and a working relationship with Indonesia. I mean, particularly in the wake of the Bali attack, the close collaboration between the Australian Federal Police and the Indonesian National Police resulted in most of those responsible being tracked down, tried and convicted and that is a real tribute to the professionalism of those two organisations. We sent teams immediately to Jakarta after the attack outside our Embassy some weeks ago and they worked with the Indonesian Police in relation to that. I can only report a very positive and very close relationship but it is going to be a long fight. Terrorism won't be easily defeated, that is why steady, consistent leadership in the world fight against terrorism is so important.

GRANT:

Prime Minister, a lot has been made about your own future, of course, you've just won this election, a lot of credit has been given to you personally for that victory but I want to ask you a direct and straight-forward question and I hope a direct and straight-forward answer. Are you going to see out this term, will you stay in office for the next three years as Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Stan, I'll stay in the job as long as my Party wants me to.

GRANT:

As long as your Party wants you to, well, the people have spoken and said they want you there, I'd assume the Party still wants you there, does that mean the next three years, does it mean beyond that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Stan, the answer covers every contingency. I've been asked this before and that's what I've said and I'm very grateful that the Australian people have renewed their confidence in me. I feel very fit and healthy. I'm looking forward to the opportunities of the fourth term. I'm looking forward to the opportunities of further deepening our relationships with the nations of the region. I hope to see President-elect, Yudhoyono. He'll be President Yudhoyono by then at the APEC meeting in Chile in November. I certainly hope to see President Bush there and I look forward to continuing the, if I can put it this way, the duality of our linkages in the Asian Pacific region and ever-closer relationship with the United States. But consistent with that, an ever-closer relationship with our friends and neighbours in the region, in the Asian Pacific region and I think those goals are achievable. We've worked towards them over the last eight-and-a-half years and I hope to spend this term doing the same thing.

GRANT:

Sir, it's been a pleasure to speak to you, I appreciate your time. Prime Minister John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[Ends]

Transcript 21510