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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20993

Joint Press Conference with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London

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: 10/11/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20993

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, ladies and gentlemen. I've just had a very good meeting with my colleagues, and if I may say so, good friends, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard and the Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. As you will all know, John Howard and Tony Blair yesterday dedicated the Australian War Memorial in Hyde Park which honours the ultimate sacrifice made by the 100,000 Australians who died fighting side by side with British troops in the great wars of the last century. It is a sacrifice, Prime Minister, which we in the United Kingdom will never ever forget.

Though we share much history, we also share a common agenda for the challenges which we both face in the future. The United Kingdom has no closer friend and ally in the Asia-Pacific region than Australia. Britain and Australia do a huge amount of business and trade with each other and our people to people contacts are as strong as they have ever been, but at this time of year in particular we inevitably think about those British, Australian and soldiers from many many other parts of the Commonwealth who died fighting to protect the security of the free world and of the common values we hold so dear, and of course we think too of all the American soldiers as well who died with us in that fight.

The partnership between Britain and Australia continues today. In more recent times in Iraq and Afghanistan our soldiers have worked together with the peoples of those countries and our international partners to rebuild peace and security in areas ravaged by years of neglect and tyrannical cruelty. Australia and Britain are united as allies precisely because we both recognise that the challenges which we now face cannot be addressed unilaterally. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and I have just been talking about the threat which we all face from international terrorism, highlighted so dreadfully at the weekend by the terrorist attack in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. And whatever those challenges, from international terrorism to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, we recognise the threats but we also know that we cannot address them alone. These are evils and dangers which can only be defeated by working closely together. Britain and Australia faced up to the trials and threats of the twentieth century by holding together, as the Hyde Park memorial poignantly testifies, but our relationship is dynamic and evolving and as our links and partnerships continue to grow we'll continue to meet the new challenges of this new century and the new opportunities together. You are most welcome Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thank you very much Foreign Secretary. I'd like to pick up the last observation that the Foreign Secretary made, and that is that the relationship between our two countries is a contemporary dynamic one as well as being a relationship steeped in history and tradition. I am principally in Britain on this occasion for the War Memorial dedication and I am taking the opportunity of telling our British friends that although Australia has demonstrated quite dramatically over the past two weeks, through the visits on successive days to our capital of President Bush and President Hu Jintao, although Australia does have very deep links across the Pacific with America and manifestly has a deep political and economic involvement in Asia, that does not completely define by any stretch of imagination our relations with the rest of the world. And the links that we have with Britain and Ireland in particular, but more generally with Europe, are an important part of our international interface and dimension.

We have, as two countries, fought together in virtually every major conflict over the last 100 years and the men and women of our services have paid a terrible price. We most recently fought together in Iraq and we continue from Australia to have some 900 defence personnel in Iraq. We fought together with our American friends not only there but also in Afghanistan and it is important, as the fight against terrorism goes on, to reinforce the commitment we have to acting where appropriate in different parts of the world to defend the values that Britain and Australia and the United States and other countries hold in common, because in the end a nation's foreign policy must be values based, as well as being a foreign policy which is put together in the direct national interest. Australia has clear and immediate interests in her own region, as demonstrated by our so far very successful intervention, along with our Pacific friends, in the Solomon Islands and as demonstrated several years ago by our initiatives in East Timor. But we're also a nation that has been willing to make decisions to commit our forces far from home. We certainly did that at a terrible cost in World War I and again in World War II, but the realities of those years still have a resonance today and in an increasingly globalised world one does have to see the defence of commonly held values as requiring action in different parts of the globe and not just immediately at home.

I want to thank the Foreign Secretary for his generous words of welcome. I want to thank the British Government for the courtesies it has extended to me and to my colleague Alexander Downer and other members of the Australian party which, as you know, includes the Minister for Veterans' Affairs as well as the Leader of the Opposition, the Shadow Foreign Minister and the Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Thank you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

Thank you very much. Can we take questions please? May I take a question from an Australian representative first.

JOURNALIST:

Foreign Secretary, would it be helpful if Australia played a greater role in the reconstruction of Iraq?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

We are delighted with the role that Australia is indeed playing and any further decisions are entirely a matter for the government of Australia, but Australia stood with the United Kingdom and with the United States in fighting for freedom in Iraq and I have nothing but praise for the contribution made by Australia and Australians.

JOURNALIST:

Iran has said today that it's suspended its uranium enrichment and will accept inspections. I am interested in the views of both Mr Straw and Mr Howard on how far this goes to allay the concerns about Iran's nuclear programme, and Mr Howard do you think this is an example of a time when European style negotiation has actually delivered some results in Iran?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

Well can I say that I obviously note with interest the statement which has been made by the government of Iran this morning. The next stage in this process will be the publication of the report by the Director-General of the IAEA Dr El Baradei, which is due very shortly, and then a meeting of the board of the IAEA which will take place in about two weeks time. We'll make our decisions in the light of the report from Dr El Baradei. I should also say that I was obviously very pleased to join with my French and German colleagues on our visit to Tehran but the framework for that visit was the unanimous resolution of the IAEA board with international backing that was decided on September the 20th.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'd simply add my voice of interest and noting with cautious approval the progress that's been made. As to whether it is the harbinger of some kind of successful alternative approach, I think it is far too early to make that kind of judgement. It is far too early to have a concluded view as to what pressures and what stance is taken by what country to produce that reaction. You might well construct an argument that other action taken could have had just as big an effect.

JOURNALIST:

Could I ask if you discussed Zimbabwe and what further action can be taken?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

We did indeed discuss Zimbabwe and really it was to discuss the current uncertainties of the situation, but the position taken by the Commonwealth is clear and I anticipate that that will hold unless there is a dramatic change for the better in Zimbabwe which we are not anticipating.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's our view too.

JOURNALIST:

Given the attacks in Riyadh at the weekend, does Britain still believe that Saudi Arabia is capable of controlling al Qaeda? And the same question to Mr Howard.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

I have sent a message of support and sympathy to our opposite number, Alexander's and my opposite number, Prince Saud the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister, to express our condolences for the deaths and injuries which have taken place. One of those injured was a locally engaged member of the staff of the British Embassy in Riyadh who is in fact a Lebanese national. But she was seriously but not life threateningly injured. And I spoke to our British Ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles this morning. But in the message which I sent to Prince Saud, I have also expressed our appreciation for the action which the Saudi authorities have taken and I know will take in the future to combat terrorism in Saudi Arabia.

JOURNALIST:

Foreign Secretary, going back to the Australian Memorial in Hyde Park. It has been described as a long overdue tribute to the lives that Australia paid in the two World Wars. Is that something you would go along with?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

Well I think whether people are aware of the extent of Commonwealth involvement in our liberty in the last century is a matter of personal assessment but as you may have seen in an article which I wrote in The Times this morning, in respect of the hundreds of thousands of people from South Asia, what is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, I believe that that insufficiently is understood and appreciated in this country about the astonishing sacrifice made by people from all over what is now the Commonwealth, as well as the United States, in fighting for and securing our liberty. So whether or not it's late in the day, I am delighted by the initiative which Prime Minister Howard has taken to ensure that there is a lasting memorial for that sacrifice for our freedom.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you mentioned the 900 military personnel remaining in Iraq from Australia. It is now almost six months since President Bush declared an end to hostilities there. Aren't we now becoming involved in the kind of peacekeeping mission in Iraq you said the country wouldn't be involved in?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I said, to be precise, was that it was never our intention, and this was communicated very early in the piece, to have a large number of peacekeepers. I don't think you define the character of a task by the length of time. You define it by what they do. And if these 900 people remain for a defined additional period, unless the character of their work changes, then you shouldn't change the description.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

Thank you very much indeed.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 20993