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Transcript 12495

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD SATTLER, RADIO 2SM

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: 13/09/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12495

Subjects: Iraq; United Nations.

E&OE...........

SATTLER:

Good morning, Prime Minister, how are you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm very well, Howard.

SATTLER:

Nice to talk to you after all this time.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's always good to talk to you, Howard.

SATTLER:

Good. Alright, now, a very impressive speech by the American President overnight I think you'd agree.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. He's taking this issue very seriously and I thought he made a very compelling case. He basically put the wood on the United Nations to do its job.

SATTLER:

Do you reckon its been sitting on its hands over this issue for too long?

PRIME MINISTER:

The United Nations should have done something about Iraq's non-compliance a long time ago. Everybody's mind has become more focused on this issue since the 11th of September last year and people now realise because of what then happened that you can't indefinitely ignore potential threats, because they might turn into reality. And that is the problem the world now has and it's something that we have to come to terms with and the real issue is Iraqi non-compliance.

SATTLER:

But what…September 11 last year, we know who was behind that, Osama Bin Laden, what's that got to do with the issue we have with Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'll tell you what it's got to do with it. It demonstrated that if you don't deal with potential threats they can turn into devastating reality. That's what it's got to do with it. I don't really think the world imagined that terrorism was something that occurred in countries like America or Australia or Britain. They thought, well, terrorism occurs in countries that have disorganised governments and are in a constant state of civil war but countries that are stable and progressive and have very high living standards, you don't have these devastating acts of terrorism. I mean, you have isolated, crazy behaviour such as the bombing of the Federal Building in Okalahoma by McVeigh but you don't have organised terrorism. Now, I think what the 11th of September last year showed was that that comfortable paradigm no longer exists and I think that is what has focused people's minds. And what the Americans are facing now is, okay, you can forget about Iraq, take the risk, nothing might happen, they mightn't do anything but then they might. They have the capacity to do things but how do you explain to the children of the next lot of victims that you just sat by and did nothing. You see, that really is what I think has focused the American mind.

SATTLER:

Which is what happened with Hitler in the 30s.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I'm very conscious of that historical analogy but by the same token I don't invoke that. I mean, I think each period in history has its own set of circumstances and I'm not trying to force that analogy but it's dealing with the present situation. The United Nations passed a series of resolutions. Iraq has been in defiant, flagrant, non-compliance with those resolutions now year after year after year. And what George Bush said last night was, okay fellas, they've defied you, you've got to do something about it. And I think what will now happen is that the Americans will try and get support for a fresh resolution of some description through the Security Council. Exactly what form that takes, I don't know, I don't think they know yet. I think they're probably still talking about it. But, in the end, if the United Nations wants to preserve its authority then it's got to do something about this and if they don't do something about it, well, we'll then have to deal with another set of circumstances.

SATTLER:

They don't mind sending all sorts of people to Australia to take us to task for the way they reckon we're treating asylum seekers. I mean, I would have thought this was a much more important issue.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think most Australians would agree with that comparison, Howard. I think one of the irritations people have with the United Nations is that they do appear on occasions to be very pre-occupied with what you might call side-bar issues but some of the main issues they tend to walk away from. Now, I have to acknowledge that the United Nations is very much a projection of the collective views of its most powerful members when it comes to the Security Council. I accept all of that but this is a very important test. What I thought was interesting about last night was that essentially George Bush and Kofi Annan were saying the same thing.

SATTLER:

Or were they because Kofi Annan warned that launching a military campaign against Iraq without the support of the United Nations would be a grave mistake and [inaudible] with international law?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I expected him to say something along those lines but he also said and in the course of saying it accepted responsibility on the part of the United Nations for doing something about Iraq. And I thought that was a very interesting convergence, although the reporting and everything was perhaps to the extent that he was warning Bush. I don't see it quite in those terms. I thought last night was good because they were both saying the United Nations has a central role. And our Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, will be talking to the UN General Assembly later today and, importantly, tomorrow he's going to meet the Iraqi Foreign Minister in New York.

SATTLER:

Oh, okay. Well, the first question from him, or ought to be and I wouldn't presume to tell him what to say, would be, well if you've got nothing to hide, why don't you allow the weapons inspectors in there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I tell you that is the question that passes the pub test everywhere I go in Australia. What people are saying is if they've got nothing to hide why do they stop the inspectors coming in. Well, I would imagine that tomorrow when Mr Downer meets the Iraqi Foreign Minister - and I'm pleased that he's meeting him face to face and he'll be able to eyeball him and say, this is what Australia thinks. We're not hiding behind the United Nations or the Americans or the British, they're not our proxy on this, we'll be talking directly. And, of course, when Alexander comes back he'll be able to include in his report to Parliament a report of the meeting he had with the Iraqi Foreign Minister.

SATTLER:

You'd be interested in what my colleague in journalism, Mr Paul McGeogh, at the Sydney Morning Herald told me this morning having just returned from Iraq where he was taken on an inspection with a group of media people, albeit one very much under guard. And he happened to get a question to one of the blokes running those places the Iraqies said was nothing, just some sort of a little fertiliser factory, he said, have you ever worked with chemical weapons? The bloke said, oh yeah, and he said, how many other people here have been working on chemical weapons? He said, about 80% of us. I'm not sure whether that blokes with us anymore.

PRIME MINISTER:

I would fear for him.

SATTLER:

By the way, the visit was abruptly stopped at that point.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that's interesting. That's Paul McGeogh and Paul McGeogh has written some quite critical stuff of the Americans on this. So if he is reporting that you assume it's quite…it's quite objective. It's interesting. I hadn't heard that. I have finished just reading in the Melbourne Age this morning a piece by a British journalist which just documents the way in which the inspections were frustrated and stopped and the inspectors lied to and cheated. I mean, there's a mountain of material there already. I mean, people talk about evidence. That interview with Paul McGeogh sounds pretty good on the question of evidence, it really does.

SATTLER:

The other thing that concerned him - I don';t want to just quote him - is the effect that first of all the sanctions have had and an attack would have on the innocent citizens of Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we all worry about that but I have to say this, that it is within the reach of the Iraqi Government to stop that. If they were to allow unconditional, unharassed, properly supervised and protected inspections so that if something was found that was suspicious it could be removed and people weren't being interfered with and harassed and abused in the process. If that were allowed then this situation could alter overnight.

SATTLER:

What makes you think Saddam Hussein cares about his own people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, he clearly doesn't in the way he's behaved in the past and that is the nature of what we're dealing with and that really does come back to the core of the issue and that is the non-compliance and the potential threat that might pose, not immediately but nobody would have dreamt 14 months ago that what happened a year ago did happen and I think that has altered the way in which we respond to potential threats in a quite dramatic fashion.

SATTLER:

Well, on reflection we should have done something about Saddam Hussein 10 years ago I reckon.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, some people argue that. Others argue that the United Nations mandate only extended to Iraq's expulsion from Kuwait. But it didn't happen. We are now facing a different and, in some respects, more difficult situation because the argument perhaps is a different argument but it's nonetheless a very important issue, it can't be ignored. I'm very pleased that the United Nations has got itself involved and we'll just have to work our way through it.

SATTLER:

But how much are you going to tell us or is Alexander going to tell us next week in Parliament so we can judge whether or not we're doing the right thing?

PRIME MINISTER:

If any decision were made down the track - and I'm talking here hypothetically because no request has been made and no commitment has been given - but if we make any decision down the track to commit Australian military forces can I assure you, Howard, that there will be a full explanation of the reasons and that explanation would be given by me and it would be detailed.

SATTLER:

What, an address to the nation, that type of thing?

PRIME MINISTER:

All of that, all of that. But we're nowhere near that at the moment.

SATTLER:

No but we're not mushrooms, that's what I'm saying.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, right at the moment we have a situation where the Foreign Minister's been in New York, he's heard the President, he's spoken to the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, he will by tomorrow afternoon have seen the Iraqi Foreign Minister. I think it will be very informative for the Parliament to hear from him as a first instalment and he certainly will. Anyway, I must go, I've got to get a car to go on to another commitment.

SATTLER:

I appreciate your time today.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

SATTLER:

Talk to you again soon.

PRIME MINISTER:

Bye bye.

[Ends]

Transcript 12495