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Transcript 20692

Interview with Glenn Milne, Sunday 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: 16/02/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20692

MILNE:

Prime Minister, welcome to the program.

PRIME MINISTER:

Pleasure.

MILNE:

You've seen the Blix report. The UN is stalemated. There's still talk of war. Where to from here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Blix report didn't add anything, really said what we already knew. The most important thing it said, that we have known for some time, is that Iraq is still defying the world community. Where to from here? It really is a question of the Security Council now deciding whether its will is to be flouted or its will is to be obeyed. Now that is the key issue.

MILNE:

Just to go back to the Blix report for a second. He says the Iraqis are cooperating better. He didn't find any weapons of mass destruction. What is the basis for going to war?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he also said that although there had been an improvement, they were still fundamentally not cooperating. His last paragraph was very revealing. He said that the process of disarmament would be quite speedy if there was full cooperation. What he is really saying is: time's not the issue, it's attitude. If Iraq had a cooperative attitude, all our problems would be solved. But Iraq has not had a cooperative attitude for 12 years and the one thing the world community can't afford to do is to give up because it's all too hard and complicated and walk away, because if that happens, Iraq will not disarm, and worse still, other countries will say 'if they can get away with it, so can we'.

MILNE:

You've said throughout this trip that you only had a faint hope of a peaceful resolution. Has that faint hope now gone?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it hasn't. The hope of a peaceful resolution is that the world community speaks with one voice, and in particular, the Arab States all together say to Iraq, 'you must comply with the wishes of the world community'. See, if the world community remains divided, the pressure on Iraq is reduced. Everything that has been achieved to date has been achieved because of the American military build-up. People keep forgetting it. America's critics are prepared to start at the point that has been delivered by the American military build-up, that's the presence of the inspectors. Kofi Annan and Hans Blix both know that if it hadn't been for the American military build-up, there would be no inspectors in Iraq. It's an issue that was left dormant for years until the Americans reactivated it.

MILNE:

So peace is still a likely outcome?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, peace is a possible outcome if the world community speaks with one voice. Saddam Hussein is a person who only responds to pressure. He's not somebody who can be convinced in a Sunday afternoon debate. He responds to pressure, and pressure has been applied. The inspectors are back. There have been a few morsels of cooperation wrung out of him, but he is still not cooperating properly and he still basically is treating the Security Council with contempt, and it's now for the world community, particularly the Security Council, to understand that.

MILNE:

You keep mentioning the Arab States and the necessity for them to come onboard. Will Australia be doing anything in particular to try and achieve that outcome?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think a lot of countries have been putting that view. It's really a question of recognising that the neighbouring countries to Iraq have a direct influence, and because they belong to the broader Arab community, they're very important players in this.

MILNE:

Millions of people are marching around the world. We've had 150,000 in Melbourne. More are expected in Sydney. Opinion really at home has hardened while you have been away trying to sell your message, hasn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't know that you can measure public opinion just by the number of people who turn up at demonstrations. This is an issue where a certain...

MILNE:

It's a lot of people.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is, but this is an issue where a certain percentage of people would feel very strongly opposed to my stance, but there would be many others who would either support it or be very much in the middle. Glenn, what I'm doing here is what I think is right for Australia. This is not something where you read each opinion poll or you measure the number of people in demonstrations. I haven't taken the stand I have and the Government hasn't... we haven't done it lightly. It's not easy. I wish I had other issues to talk to you about. I hate war as much as the next person. I despise it. But I know that if the world community walks away from this issue, we could well have to confront it in a few years time at an infinitely greater cost. That is the lesson of history and that is what people should understand.

MILNE:

On that point of hating war - you're a father. What do you say to the mother and father of innocent children in Iraq who don't support Saddam Hussein but may well die in a conflict like this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, they wouldn't be dying if there is a conflict, if the President of their country had respected international opinion. If Iraq were...

MILNE:

They don't support him. He is a dictator.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but Glenn we have to balance risks. International decision making is often about balancing risks. If you recoil from immediate consequences, you will never confront challenges and difficulties in the way they should and you end up paying an infinitely greater price. Many children die as a result of that. This is a very awful, difficult situation, but you don't get a change of behaviour from somebody like Saddam Hussein by displaying weakness.

MILNE:

Why do you think it is, though, that so many people - Australians, I mean - don't believe you when you say you haven't already made the decision to commit troops?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think people recognise that because we have troops there, that we have made a commitment that other countries haven't made, but what I'm saying is that we haven't made a final decision, and we haven't. I mean, it's just a statement of the obvious and a statement of fact. Sure, we have troops there, we're part of a forward deployment. But until I know the final international conditions on which Australian troops might be involved, I'm not going to take that final decision. I'm not required to, and I shouldn't, because one of my responsibilities is to maintain maximum flexibility on an issue like this right up until the end. I would be foolish and unwise if I did otherwise.

MILNE:

To go back to the Security Council now, you say... you've always said you wanted a second resolution, but given the performance of France, the attitude of China, Russia, it's pretty clear that going after a second resolution now is pointless, isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't agree with that. These things often change at the last minute. Nobody thought Resolution 1441 would get 15 to nil - nobody - not even President Bush the night before.

MILNE:

Is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. He thought it would get a big majority, but not as big as that. So it's one of those situations where it changes, and right at the end. Now, it's still unclear - I recognise that - but I don't think you should assume that it is as cut and dried as you suggested.

MILNE:

Should the Security Council now be imposing a deadline on Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I guess over the next few days there will be a lot of discussions. Those discussions should take place against the simple fact that Iraq has not complied with 1441. It's not more time that's needed, it's a change of attitude. If you had a change of attitude, you could have all the time in the world, and Blix has said it wouldn't take a lot of time. In a sense, that last paragraph ...

MILNE:

Surely this would bring it to a head, wouldn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think what I have to do now is to recognise that there are a lot of discussions that are going to go on at the Security Council, and we, naturally, will be putting some views to those who are on the Security Council, and perhaps some of those views are best put privately.

MILNE:

But would that include a deadline?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think any view we have should be put privately.

MILNE:

Alright Prime Minister, we'll pause there and we'll be back after the break.

[break]

MILNE:

Will Australia abide by whatever decision the UN Security Council takes?

PRIME MINISTER:

We would like another resolution. The question of how Australia reacts in the wake of what the United Nations finally decides is something that I'm not going to speculate about until I know what the United Nations finally decides. I have a great respect for the United Nations, but I'm unwilling to utterly sublet Australia's foreign and national security policy to the Security Council.

MILNE:

But you acknowledge, don't you, that it could come down to a choice between us supporting the United Nations or the United States?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there are a range of possible outcomes. This is a very serious issue and it would be utterly irresponsible of me to deal other than with reality. This is about as serious as it gets and it doesn't really serve the national interest for me to say, 'well if such and such happens, we'll do this.' It serves the national interest for us to take the strong stand we have, to put ourselves in a position to contribute to a military operation if we judge that to be in the national interest. Now, that is the end choice that has to be made and I'm not going to go beyond that.

MILNE:

Can you rule out then... I suppose, given what you have just said, you won't answer this question, but can you rule out Australia supporting a unilateral US strike?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, by definition, something is not unilateral if more than one country is involved in it...

MILNE:

But without a UN mandate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Our position is as I have just described it. That has always been... that has been our position for some time. This is not something that has just been dreamt up. It is in Australia's national interest to decide, when we know all of the realities and all of the circumstances, what we do. And that's one of the reasons why it's quite valid of me to say we haven't made a final decision.

MILNE:

You would be aware though that somebody who is opposed to the war and watching this program and heard that answer - not ruling out a unilateral strike - would say, 'well, it's obviously on the table'.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Glenn, this is too serious an issue to play those sorts of word games. We will do what I've said we are going to do, for the reasons I have explained. In the end, we're involved in this issue because I'm concerned about the spread of biological and chemical weapons to rogue states, and the fearful possibility - and it's more likely as they spread - that those weapons will get into the hands of international terrorists. Now that is the main reason why we are taking the stance that we are. We do, of course, take into account our alliance with the United States and I make no apology for that. The security alliance between Australia and the United States is the ultimate guarantee of Australia's security, and no major national security decision should be taken by any Australian government without factoring that in.

MILNE:

Did you tell President Bush there are any circumstances under which we wouldn't commit troops?

PRIME MINISTER:

We didn't talk about the details of a military campaign. We talked about how to handle the matter in current circumstances.

MILNE:

How can we trust the intelligence that our allies are providing us - and a lot of our decisions are being based on that intelligence - when Dr Blix says it's inconclusive and when we find out the Blair dossier was based on the ramblings of a postgraduate student?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Blair dossier was not based on intelligence. It has got nothing to do with the judgments we have made. That was a politically generated document and it doesn't in any way alter the decision. In fact, none of our decisions have been based on that, and they never would be. Dr Blix offered an alternative explanation. He didn't say the intelligence was wrong. I am very persuaded by both the American and British intelligence that I have seen. A lot of it has been declassified. Some of it hasn't and can't be, and it remains the case that what I have seen, I'm very persuaded by. I didn't think Dr Blix's point about the mobiles was very persuasive at all. He simply said it could be another explanation. Yes, it could be, but when you take all of the elements in the Powell presentation into account - the phone conversation intercepts, the plane, the spraying, and all of those things together - they are strongly consistent with only one hypothesis, and that is the one that he was putting forward.

MILNE:

When you were in the United Kingdom, we saw Britain go on its highest-ever terrorist alert. Heathrow Airport had rings of tanks around it. Is there any reason that we should be on a higher terror alert at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not on information I have at present. There might be in the future. I don't know. It's very difficult for any government in this kind of atmosphere. You are damned if you do and you are damned if you don't. If you do that, you get criticised - unfairly, as the British Government was - for being alarmist. But if you don't do it and somebody suggests that something might have happened or something does happen, forever and a day you're damned for indifference.

MILNE:

You must concede, though, that if we were to become involved in a war, even if there was just a war, we would become a more high-profile terrorist target, wouldn't we?

PRIME MINISTER:

Glenn, all Westerners, all Western nations are high-profile targets. French and German citizens have died in terrorist attacks at the hands of al-Qaeda.

MILNE:

You have just completed your talks with President Megawati. Did she give you any sense that, if there was a war, given that Indonesia is opposed to war, that that would fuel radical Islam in the region?

PRIME MINISTER:

Glenn, everybody is opposed to war. The people who are disagreeing with the United States and Great Britain and Australia on this issue do not have a mortgage on the hatred of war. That is a false moral assumption. We all hate war. As far as Indonesia is concerned, I explained that the basis of our position had absolutely nothing to do with any hostility to Islam.

MILNE:

Did she accept that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, she did, and in fact, she told me that that was her view as well - that this is not a question of people being anti-Islam. She understands that fully. I was very direct about that, and she appreciated it. Obviously, Indonesia would like the matter dealt with through the United Nations. I understand that, and I respect the view that Indonesia has. We talked about it. She understood and accepted my explanation of the Australian position. As for fuelling of radical Islam - I don't think she herself raised that matter. Others have talked about it, adverted to it, but I don't recall she herself raising it.

MILNE:

You met the Bali bombing investigation team today.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

MILNE:

If those in custody currently are found guilty, should they face the death penalty, or will that just turn them into martyrs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Glenn, they should be dealt with in accordance with Indonesian law.

MILNE:

And there's provision for the death penalty?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, and if that is what the law of Indonesia provides, well that is how things should proceed, and there won't be any protest from Australia.

MILNE:

You also held discussions on North Korea. Why is it that you don't think North Korea is as big a threat to Australia as Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

I've never said that. The two issues are at completely different stages. Iraq has been thumbing its nose at the world for 12 years. If we don't deal strongly with Iraq, we will make it next to impossible to deal effectively with North Korea. What chance does the Security Council have of disciplining North Korea if it walks away from disciplining Iraq? What chance? None at all. That's very important, and that's the reason why I'm taking the stand I am. It doesn't mean for a moment that we're walking away from the problem of North Korea. In fact, Australia has been diplomatically more active on North Korea than any country in the world.

MILNE:

Finally, Prime Minister, do we have any cost on our troop deployment, and is there the prospect of deploying any further troops, or is this it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, what I have described is it, and there's no possibility of there being more. The final cost - well, there has been some provision made in the most recent figures, and obviously it depends... I mean, if we have a peaceful outcome, which we all hope for, then they come home and that's it and the cost will be less. So I think it's a bit difficult at this stage to try and put some kind of definitive figure on it.

MILNE:

Prime Minister, thank you for your time at what has been the end of a very torrid trip.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 20692