This is the transcript of the speech delivered by the Prime Minister, John Howard, to the National Press Club, in The Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra.
The transcript also contains the questions and answers following the speech.
- Listen to Howard’s speech:
Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s National Press Club appearance:
Mr President, ladies and gentlemen.
The issue of Iraq is challenging, difficult and perplexing. It is an issue that I know has produced divided responses not only in Australia but around the world and that is perhaps not surprising because in many respects, how to respond to Iraq in the current circumstances is the very first test for the world in the new international circumstances in which we find ourselves as a result of the terrorist attacks on the United States on the 11th of September, which have so changed not only the attitude of Americans towards their security but how other liberal democracies must view security issues around the world.
The response to that terrorist attack, of course, was relatively clear-cut in terms of public opinion. This is more challenging and more perplexing. And I want to say immediately that I understand why some of my fellow Australians do not agree with the stance that the Government has taken. I respect their view but in return I ask them to respect and understand the depth of feeling and commitment that I have to the policy the Government has embarked upon, the sense of concern I have for the security of this country in the medium to longer-term if the twin evils of the spread of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism are not confronted and are not effectively dealt with. It is an issue that goes to the very heart of national leadership and it’s an issue that requires and summons all of us to give very deep thought and very serious consideration.
We believe that it is very much in the national interest of Australia that Iraq have taken from her her chemical and biological weapons and denied the possibility of ever having nuclear weapons. Not only is it inherently dangerous for a country such as Iraq with its appalling track record to have these records but if Iraq is allowed to get away with it other rogue States will believe they can do the same because they will have seen a world effectively stand by and allow it to happen. And as these dangerous weapons spread so the risk that they may fall into the hands of terrorists will multiply. And if terrorists ever get their hands on weapons of mass destruction that will, in my very passionate belief and argument, constitute a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people, and that would be the ultimate nightmare not only for us but for other peoples in other nations. That, more than anything else, is the reason why we have taken the stance we have and it’s the reason why we believe that Iraq should be effectively and comprehensively disarmed.
Of course our reliance with the United States is also a factor, unapologetically so. America has given very strong leadership to the world on the issue of Iraq. Let us be honest, this issue would not be back before the Security Council now were it not for the United States. The Security Council would not have become re-energised at the task of disarming Iraq had it not been for the United States. Alliances are two-way processes and our alliance with the United States is no exception and Australians should always remember that no nation is more important to our long-term security than that of the United States.
Terrorist groups want weapons of mass destruction. Of that there can be little doubt. Australian intelligence agencies, including ONA, judge that Al Qaida has demonstrated the intention to acquire or develop chemical and biological weapons and an interest in radiological and nuclear weapons. This judgement reflects the intelligence community’s professional assessment and is based on the full range of intelligence material available. But it is not just secret intelligence that leads to this assessment. Information in the public domain indicates that Al Qaida has made repeated attempts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear materials and capabilities over almost a decade.
Bin Laden has on numerous occasions made statements about the desirability of acquiring these types of weapons. In a January 1999 interview he described the acquisition of chemical and nuclear weapons as a “religious duty”. In an interview of November 2001 he claimed to have chemical and nuclear weapons. Part of Al Qaida’s multi-volume ‘Encyclopedia of Jihad’ is devoted to the construction of chemical and biological weapons. And after the US-led intervention into Afghanistan a variety of evidence was discovered there showing Al Qaida’s interest in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. For example, tapes acquired at Al Qaida training camps showed lethal poison gas or nerve agent tests conducted on animals. British officials have presented evidence to the media that Al Qaida may have developed a small radiological or ‘dirty’ bomb. A number of crude chemical and biological facilities have been found by coalition forces in Afghanistan, one of which was designed to produce Anthrax. The evidence is powerful and irrefutable that terrorist groups and particularly Al Qaida want chemical and biological weapons and if they are able to get them or to develop them in a deliverable way they will use them whatever the ultimate cost.
In our view if the world fails to deal once and for all with the problem of Iraq and its possession of weapons of mass destruction it will have given a green light to the further proliferation of these weapons and it will undo 30 years of hard international work, including by Australia, which has been designed to enforce not only conventions on chemical weapons but also the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Ladies and gentlemen, the world, particularly our own region, is rightly concerned about North Korea. North Korea has blatantly violated its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and so far from the challenge of North Korea, overshadowing the challenge of Iraq, it adds greater urgency and relevance to Iraq. Because if the world cannot disarm Iraq it has no hope of disciplining North Korea. If the Security Council fails the Iraqi test it will not pass the test of North Korea. These reasons for our direct and urgent commitment to the cause of disarming Iraq must be seen against the background of the different world in which we now all live.
The Gulf War of 1991 arrived in a conventional fashion. One nation, namely Iraq, had rolled across the borders of another, Kuwait, and the invader had to be ejected. He had no right to be there. It was as simple as that. That war pre-dated the rise of international terrorism as a potent force. Terrorism had existed long before 1991 but of not the random, mass casualty kind borne of radical Islam, which had its culmination on the 11th of September 2001 and also demonstrated its cruel ferocity on the 12th of October 2002.
The decade of the 1990s was meant to have been one in which a new international order, free of the bi-polar rivalry of earlier days, was to have been established. Rather it became a period which saw the emergence of international terrorism as a major threat to international security – terrorism, not just with an anti-western bias, but terrorism designed to undermine moderate but struggling states in the developing world.
Instead of the fall of the Berlin wall ushering in a world in which greater co-operation between nations replaced bi-polar rivalry, the Cold War, it gave place to ethnic fragmentation and an envy of western prosperity and hostility towards its values. As you know 1993 saw the first attack on the World Trade Centre and through the ’90s that was followed by other incidents including the attacks on American facilities in East Africa which claimed almost 300 mainly African lives and culminating in the horrific attacks in New York and Washington.
These attacks, ladies and gentlemen, have transformed our world. They have forever changed the way in which Americans see their security not only domestically but in the world itself. No longer could America’s security – or indeed that of other liberal democracies – be seen just in terms of responding to or deterring aggression from nation states. A different enemy carrying a new menace had attacked.
International terrorism is borderless. A key motivation is a detestation of western values. It has obscenely hidden behind Islam, one of the great religions of the world. It will falsely depict any retaliation against terrorism as a generic attack on Islam. Australia’s policy on Iraq is not anti-Islam, a fact accepted by the President of Indonesia, the largest Islamic nation in the world.
Israel is also a special target of terrorism. Israel’s legitimacy has been denied for almost fifty years by many of her neighbours. And even the steadfast support of the United States for Israel has not altered that situation. In that setting, many extremist Middle Eastern groups have mounted terrorist attacks on Israeli interests over the decades. And in the 1990s, these murderous methods have spread to other Middle Eastern and Islamic extremist circles. All of this in part emphasises the need for the world to try even harder to achieve a lasting settlement of the ongoing dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians – a subject to which I may return in a moment.
Australia is a western nation. Nothing can, will or should alter that fact. As such, in this new world, we are a terrorist target. Those who assert that through some calibration of our foreign policy we can buy immunity from terrorist attacks advance a proposition which is both morally flawed and factually wrong.
It is morally flawed because this nation should never fashion its foreign policy under threat. The foreign policy of Australia should always reflect the values of Australia. Bin Laden identified Australia as a terrorist target because the intervention in East Timor. Let me pose the question, if that threat had been issued prior to the invention in 1999 should the Australian government have pulled back? I think not. Would the Australian public have wanted the government then in the face of that threat to have pulled back? I think not. The proposition about your foreign policy being adjusted is also factually flawed because the victims of terrorists over the past decade have come from many nations sharing a full variety of foreign policy and strategic views.
Those who doubt the case for the disarmament of Iraq should examine again the appalling track record of Saddam Hussein: the invasion of Iran and Kuwait, the firing of the missiles at Israel, Bahrain and Qatar; the bulling of Syria and Jordan and the Gulf States; the use of his weapons against his own people. Iraq has a long history too of training and supporting terrorist groups, of the practice of paying a sum to every Palestinian family whose member embarks upon a suicide bombing mission into Israel. So the long history of Iraq’s relationship with terrorist groups and the disposition to aggregation of the completely reckless kind conditions and reinforces our views.
Now many will say we agree with all of that but doesn’t that really, that line of argument, this is why in particular the French and Germans in the Security Council are right and that the weapons’ inspectors must be given more time. Can I say that those who advocate that face two very important questions. Do they really believe that the weapons inspectors would even be in Iraq had it not been for the United States military build up? Do they really believe that the few morsels of compliance that are now being squeezed out of Iraq would have been squeezed out had it not been for the muscle given to diplomacy through the presence of the Americans and by extension the British and the Australians in the Gulf?
Hans Blix and Kofi Annan have both attested to the fact that had it not been for the American military build-up, the inspectors would not be back in Iraq. The French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, has said likewise. And Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac have signed an EU declaration that makes the same point.
But there’s an even more fundamental question that has to be answered by the critics of the United States on this issue. Let us assume for a moment that the British, Spanish, American resolution, or something comparable to it, doesn’t succeed in the United Nations Security Council. Presumably the majority that will have bought that result about would say that military action should not be taken to enforce the disarmament of Iraq. If they were to say that would they then go on to say that they expect the American, the British and the Australian forces to be withdrawn from the Gulf region? Of course they would expect no such thing to occur. They would be perfectly happy for those forces to remain there, potentially indefinitely, as the only certain way to maintain pressure on Iraq. They know – as we all do – that if those forces were withdrawn any Iraqi co-operation, inadequate though it is at the present time, would evaporate immediately.
Crucially, also, the failure of the Security Council to adopt a further effective resolution, even if the forces were to remain, would create a completely new dynamic. Saddam Hussein would know that he had won, at the very least, a major reprieve. And his incentive to co-operate in the future would be completely non-existent.
The pressure exerted by an unutilised military presence inevitably diminishes over time. And this is particularly so when a possible trigger point for the use of force has come and gone.
The unspoken implication of say the French position is that American, British and Australian forces should remain in the Gulf region indefinitely. That, speaking from Australia’s point of view, is plainly unrealistic.
These questions have not been adequately answered or even addressed by those who’ve been so ready to man the moral parapets and criticise the actions of the Americans, and the British, and we Australians in our attempt to address, in an effective way, this extremely vexed issue.
This opportunistic approach of America’s critics lacks merit. But even worse than that in the process I believe very strongly it’s squandering the one real chance the world might still have of achieving the peaceful, but total disarmament of Iraq.
This could still be achieved if the total membership of the Security Council got behind a resolution which said very bluntly to Iraq, unless you effectively disarm you will face armed assault.
And then if the neighbouring Arab States, who have a significant role to play, were to send a similar message, you might just have a feint hope of there being a change of attitude in Baghdad.
But while ever other nations use this crisis to secure international political advantage against the United States, we are passing up the opportunity the world may well have to achieve the thing we all want. And that is a desirable double and that is the disarmament totally of Iraq but in a peaceful fashion.
Many of those who constantly attack the United States’ position have sought to give their case intellectual respectability by describing the alternative they urge as containment. And that’s not surprising because the word containment in world diplomacy has had a pretty illustrious record. It described the successful response of the West to the Soviet expansion of the post- World War II years and into the 1950s. And we all know what happened at the end the day when the Soviet imploded, the ideological contest was won by liberal democratic societies and the United States emerged as the one super power.
It is, however, a false historical comparison to talk about containment in that context.. Worse still it misstates completely the character of the threat that the world now faces. And it starkly illustrates the fundamentally different world we now live in as a result of the 11th of September 2001.
Containment of the old Soviet Union worked because of the possession of nuclear weapons by both the West and the Soviets.
The doctrine called Mutual Assured Destruction guaranteed the maintenance of the status quo delivered by containment until the Soviet Union imploded.
The view, validly held, was that if the West and the Soviet had gone to war say over Hungary in 1956, or Czechoslovakia in 1968, then the cost of that would have been horrific and much greater than the cost, albeit a great one, of leaving Soviet supported regimes in place in Prague and in Budapest. But the judgement was made then that the cost of doing something was really much greater than the cost of doing nothing. Now you have a completely reversed situation where the cost of nothing is potentially much greater than the cost of doing something. Because if Iraq is not effectively disarmed not only could she use chemical and biological weapons against her own people again, other rogue states would be encouraged to copy her, the spread of those weapons would multiply the likelihood that terrorists would lay their hands on them.
In other words doing nothing about Iraq, potentially, is much more costly than using force, if necessary, to ensure the Iraq’s disarmament.
Those who argue that more weapons inspectors should be given more months to do their work in Iraq do not acknowledge the history of Saddam’s failure to co-operate or that there’s nothing in that history that has changed. For 12 years the community of nations has tried to cajole and encourage Iraq to honour its UN disarmament obligations, and it’s failed. Iraq has not demonstrably taken the one last chance UN Security Council gave it four months ago in Resolution 1441. It is not a question of more time and more inspectors. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, it’s a question not of time or inspectors but it’s a question of attitude. And unless and until Iraq’s attitude changes and the giving up under the pressure that’s been applied, minimal it is, does not represent that compliance.
Any action that’s taken against Iraq must of course stand or fall on its own merit according to the strength of the arguments that are engaged.
The disarmament of Iraq would bring great benefits to the Middle East, but as I mentioned earlier the international community must redouble its efforts to secure a just solution to the Israeli Palestinian issue.
Israel has no stauncher friend or ally than Australia in her legitimate aspiration to exist behind secure internationally recognised boundaries. We also support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and it remains one of the great disappointments I’ve witnessed in the time that I’ve been Prime Minister that the courageous attempt of Ehud Barak, offering so much of what had been asked of him by the Palestinians was not successful. But we have to move on and I would again renew my appeal to Ariel Sharon to use the authority of his re-election to take every opportunity that may be there to move towards peace. And I welcome Arafat’s appointment of a Prime Minister and I hope he or she has a good negotiating mandate. But could I just say one thing to the Palestinian Council and any who may be responsible or who may exert influence, how can any Prime Minister of Israel take the steps I’m talking about while the murderous pattern of suicide bombing continues to be inflicted on their people.
Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, our interests and the interests of a stable peaceful world require that Iraq be disarmed. And disarmament of Iraq has always been our prime policy goal but we certainly recognise that the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime would provide an opportunity to lessen the suffering of the Iraqi people.
Armed conflict is a terrible thing. If it occurs the agony and the deaths of people are many and I’m very conscious, as I know other world leaders are, of the possibility, the near inevitability of course of some civilian casualties in any military operation. I understand that. I also understand, of course, that the humanitarian arguments do not always hang on one side.
My ultimate responsibility is the security of the Australian people. The humanitarian issues at stake in relation to Iraq do occupy my mind. And one key aspect of that that appears to have escaped scrutiny is the enormous humanitarian cost, not least to the people of Iraq, of Saddam Hussein remaining in charge. Even if you believed that the failing policy of containment will continue to protect the world from possible danger from Iraq, and I don’t, but even if you did, that policy’s continuation would do nothing to relieve the suffering of the people of Iraq, it will do nothing to provide them with a more hopeful, happy and peaceful life. Perhaps it’s become unpalatable or unfashionable to be reminded that the Iraqi people are oppressed by this current regime. There is no chance of normalcy in a nation where torture and rape and genocide and killing are standard practice.
Former United Nations rapporteur for humanitarian rights in Iraq, Max Van der Stoel, has spoken of the brutality of regime and let me quote:- “the evidence I have in my possession shows that human rights violations in Iraq have been so consistent, have been on such a massive scale, and have been so serious, that there are very few examples of similar repression since the World War II.” Now that is about as comprehensive and damning a critique of the scale of the horror of that regime as one could find. The language is clear but perhaps it’s too diplomatic, it’s too clinical. Perhaps it sanitises what we’re talking about.
We’re talking about a regime that will gouge out the eyes of a child to force a confession from the child’s parents. This is a regime that will burn a person’s limbs in order to force a confession or compliance. This is a regime that in 2000 decreed the crime of criticising it would be punished by the amputation of tongues. Since Saddam Hussein’s regime came to power in 1979 he has attacked his neighbours and he’s ruthlessly oppressed ethnic and religious groups in Iraq – more than one million people have died in internal conflicts and wars. Some four million Iraqis have chosen exile. Two hundred thousand have disappeared from his jails never to be seen again. He has cruelly and cynically manipulated the United Nations oil-for-food programme. He’s rorted it to buy weapons to support his designs at the expense of the wellbeing of his people. Since the Gulf War the people of Iraq have not only endured a cruel and despotic regime but they’ve had to suffer economic deprivation, hunger and sickness.
And we should never forget that economic sanctions imposed have had a humanitarian cost. That cost has been made worse by Saddam Hussein’s rorting of the sanctions regime. Those sanctions could have been lifted years ago if Iraq had complied with the requirements of Security Council resolutions about disarmament.
It is too easy to limit, it’s too easy for some people to limit the humanitarian considerations to the consequences of military conflict. In truth there’s nothing easy or reassuring or comfortable about the problem of Iraq. Surely it is undeniable that if all the humanitarian considerations are put into the balance there is a very powerful case to the effect that the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime would produce a better life and less suffering for the people of Iraq than its continuation.
As I said, ladies and gentlemen, at the beginning of my address, this is a difficult and confronting issue. There is a temptation, as some have argued, Australia should do is to sit on the sidelines, to be a spectator, to do very little either diplomatically or militarily, to leave the heavy lifting to others, to assume that we’ll somehow or other be okay in the equation and that in many respects would be quite an appealing approach. And I can understand why some of my fellow Australians have asked why does John Howard think this is important to Australia, why is he taking this stance? I’ve tried to explain some of those reasons. I don’t think this is an issue that Australia can simply be a spectator on. I don’t believe sitting on the sidelines is either good for Australia nor do I believe it has ever really been the Australian way.
The world in which terrorism is a threat is not a world that any of us can escape. We haven’t escaped it and there’s always a worry that we won’t escape it in the future. But I have the strongest possible belief that the world must confront the twin evils of the spread of weapons of mass destruction to rogue States and the danger of those would be to me and to my Government the ultimate nightmare. It is a new and sobering reality. It’s one we didn’t want. It’s one that we didn’t bring upon ourselves and it’s one that the world does not deserve. But just as in the past the world has paid a very heavy price in turning its back on immediate difficulties because of the short-term pain involved only to find further down the track inevitably the need to confront those same difficulties but at an infinitely greater cost.
I worry, and I worry very much, that if the world does not deal effectively with this issue we may, albeit in very different circumstances but with nonetheless a more tragic cost, see that kind of history repeating itself. Australia is part of that challenge and that is why this issue goes right to the heart of the Australian national interest. It is why I have a deep and strong belief that what the Government is doing is right for Australia and in Australia’s long-term security interests.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Stephanie Kennedy from ABC Radio, Prime Minister. I understand you spoke to President Bush yesterday, and that he asked you to lobby the leaders of those countries on the Security Council. I wanted to ask you if that is the case, have you done that, who have you spoken to, and what was their reaction?
I did speak to him yesterday. He didn’t ask me to lobby anyone, but if you want to know, I have already spoken to a number of countries and I hope to speak to others. I had a conversation with President Musharraf of Pakistan last week. I’m pleased to say that part of the conversation was an indulgence by both of us in our common love of a particular sport. And I spoke two nights ago to President Fox of Mexico, and I hope to speak to one or two other leaders over the course of the next day or so. But I have not been asked to lobby by President Bush. I have not been asked to lobby by Tony Blair. There are some things that I can usefully do, and I’m doing them, but we haven’t been sent a list of countries to lobby. It doesn’t work that way, whatever may be the view.
Laura Tingle from the Financial Review, Prime Minister. Your speech today has been a fairly clear enunciation of the principle of pre-emptive strike, and I was just wondering, given how events are unfolding in Iraq, or over Iraq, what is that doctrine likely to imply for the future of the broad western alliance and the UN security system, and where does it suggest Australia goes after Iraq on other rogue states?
Well Laura, you’ve chosen to put a particular description on it. I’m not going to adopt your description. I’ve given, I believe, a clear enunciation of why we’re adopting the policy we have. I’ve put it in context. We are living in a different world. The old view of aggression was that an army rolled across a border. The new menace and different menace arrived on the 11th of September. America has a different view, very understandably, and I think the implications of that for other liberal democracies is very real. But I’m not going to adopt yours or anybody else’s language. I choose my own. I’ve explained the reasons. I hope they are clear and compelling.
Mark Riley, Prime Minister, Sydney Morning Herald. It’s clear from what you have said today that you no longer consider the prospect of this new resolution failing to be hypothetical. You’ve shared with us your view of what France and Germany’s attitudes may be in that circumstance as it relates to the military deployment. I’m wondering if you’ll now be as equally candid as George Bush has been with his people, and Tony Blair with his, and tell the Australian people whether you will send our troops into war without UN approval, or the backing of the Security Council.
Mark, I’ll just repeat what I have said before, and the Australian people understand this – a final decision will be taken on that when all the processes at the Security Council are known. I’ve said before, and I’ll repeat it today, we seek the 18th resolution of the Security Council – it’s not the 2nd, it’s the 18th resolution of the Security Council – not because we believe as a matter of international law that it is needed. We believe it would be better politically, strategically and in terms of the united voice of the international community, if you could get another resolution. I take you back to what I said in my speech. I really do believe that if everybody got behind the sort of resolution of which I have spoken, and I acknowledge that the prospects of that now are not great, you would perhaps have a real prospect because if you had 15 nations saying you disarm or we’re coming after you, and you had the neighbouring Arab states saying look, the game is up, you might just get some change in Baghdad. Now if that doesn’t occur, I think the prospects for a peaceful resolution don’t appear very bright. We are positioned to participate in military action. That is self-evident. But as you will have observed from the remarks made by our men in the field, they clearly have not received any instruction as yet, and that will not be given until the Cabinet has considered the matter in the wake of the issue being resolved one way or the other, or no way, at the United Nations. That has been my position all along. I think it is the only responsible position. You never in the situation in which I am placed, you never pass up by taking a decision before you need to, the capacity to consider last-minute circumstances that may affect the type of decision you take. You never do that.
Prime Minister, Fran Kelly from The 7.30 Report. You said today that this judgement, Australia’s judgement, reflects the intelligence community’s professional assessment. Well, in recent days we’ve had an ONA officer quit his post, saying that ONA had given the Government advice that the more Saddam Hussein is pushed, the greater the chance of him using his weapons of mass destruction or linking up with terrorists. Will you release the ONA reports on Iraq, just as you released the ONA report on the children overboard, here in the National Press Club address 16 months ago?
Well that particular ONA report, as you know Fran, in relation that I mentioned 16 months ago, merely repeated press reports. I’m not going to release ONA assessments which, almost of all of which remain classified. What I said to you today represented their general view. As far as Mr Wilkie is concerned, I respect his right to have another view. It’s not surprising in a large public service and a reasonably large intelligence community, that you’re going to have a range of views. In the end, all of these things involve questions of judgement. We’re not talking about proving to the, beyond reasonable doubt, to the satisfaction of a jury at the Central Criminal Court in Darlinghurst, if you’ll excuse my Sydney origins, I mean if you wait for that kind of proof, you know, it’s virtually Pearl Harbour. You’ve got to make judgements, and judgements are made and I have given you the judgement of the [inaudible] and I’ve given you our judgement. I mean, people are saying well, you know, where is the further proof? I mean, what I am saying is you have Iraq with weapons of mass destruction, Iraq’s terrible track record, refusing to disarm, the world in effect buckles at the knees and doesn’t disarm Iraq, other rogue states say, well we can do that, North Korea says knew they would give in, North Korea becomes more uncontrollable. The likelihood, as a matter of sheer logic in those circumstances, of terrorist groups getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction has got to be greater. And these are judgement calls. And I can respect the fact that somebody else has a different view. I’m not going to denigrate the man because of that. I respect that.
Mike Seccombe from the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Howard. The United States has backed its humanitarian concerns over Iraq with a promise that it will stay around after the war and will spend as much money on restoring the infrastructure of Iraq as it spends on flattening it. I was just wondering if you would give us a commitment that we will do something similar. Will we spend something equivalent to the half a billion to a billion dollars that we’re going to spend attacking on Iraq, on repairing the damage afterwards? Or will we leave the heavy lifting to someone else?
Well what we will do is we’ll play a role in the reconstruction if that is necessary as a result of a military conflict. Of course, no reconstruction would be necessary if you could peacefully disarm Iraq, but we’ll make a contribution. We’ve already indicated that we’ll contribute some money, I think $10 million to a fund set up by Kofi Annan. That won’t be the end of that. We’ll make a further contribution. We would actually want to play a significant and constructive role in the reconstruction process. The one thing that I have said we’re not going to do is we’re not going to provide a large peacekeeping force. We don’t have the military or defence capability of doing that. But if anybody imagines that we won’t play a strong humanitarian, positive role in the process of reconstruction, they’re completely wrong.
Michelle Grattan, The Age. Mr Howard, if as you advocate, countries in the Security Council got behind the resolution and a miracle happened and Iraq said yes it would say the game was up and disarmed, but Saddam Hussein was still there, would this be enough for peace given the strong case you have made today for regime change in the name of the Iraqi people?
Well I would have to accept that if Iraq had genuinely disarmed, I couldn’t justify on its own a military invasion of Iraq to change the regime. I’ve never advocated that. Much in all as I despise the regime. But what I was really trying to say today and perhaps it has had some effect is that I get a bit tired of the humaritian argument all being on the one side. It’s about time that the humanitarian argument was put into a better balance and people understand what a monstrous regime we are dealing with.
Dennis Grant, Prime Minister, from SBS. In your speech today you have… my attention was drawn to this line where you’re talking about people who are ready to mount the moral parapets of this debate. Can I draw your attention to some of them? Could I draw your attention to General Peter Gration – he was CDF at the time of the last Gulf War; Major General Peter Phillips, fighting soldier in Vietnam, the National President of the RSL. On the diplomatic side, Dick Woolcott – former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs. All of them are opposed to your policy. Can you point me to a credible, non-political figure who does support your policy?
Well, in the nature of political debate Dennis, people don’t declare and come out in favour of something that is being done, they tend to come out against something that they disagree with. And in talking about those gentlemen, particularly Peter Gration and Peter Phillips, I don’t regard everybody as… everybody’s who’s been a little bit critical as having mounted the moral parapets, I don’t. I, in fact, I followed carefully what both Peter Gration and Peter Phillips have said and I don’t, you know, I don’t put them in the category of people who have branded what we’re doing as immoral and war mongering and so forth, they have reservations, they have different views about different aspects of it. As far as Dick Woolcott is concerned, well I respect his views. He, of course, was somebody who was very critical of our intervention in East Timor, now that’s his right. But in a debate like this you get a whole range of views and I’ve read what Peter and… the two Peter’s have said and whilst they raise a number of questions and express some concerns, I don’t regard them as having mounted the moral parapets in the way that some others have done.
Well the question of who supports me or who doesn’t support me in the end is a judgement for the people of Australia. I regard the views of individual Australians on this as just as valuable as the views of people you’ve quoted or any people I might invoke. I mean this is something for the people to think about and the purpose of a gathering like this is for me, through this forum, to talk directly to the people of Australia. I’m interested in their views, some of them don’t agree with me, some of them do. A lot of them haven’t made up their minds and I can understand that because, as I said right at the beginning, this is the first major difficult international issue of great complexity, the world has had to grapple since the arrival of what I might call the new dispensation of which I spoke in my address.
Prime Minister, Catherine McGrath from the AM, PM and World Today programmes. Can I ask you, you opened your speech today by talking about terrorism, terrorist groups and you identified Osama bin Laden, you talked about his appalling track record. You then spoke about Iraq and said that if Iraq is not stopped that’s the green light for weapons to pass from terrorists to Iraq. Can I ask you, you’ve made a link between the terrorists’ requests, the terrorists’ desire but you haven’t made a strong link between Iraq or provided any proof that Iraq is seeking to deliver its weapons to terrorists. Can I ask you a two part question – do you have any evidence that you can provide now? Secondly, what about other countries that hold nuclear weapons that may provide opportunities for terrorists, for example, Pakistan which some could argue would have more chance of passing them on?
Well, can I start with the other countries that have them. I mean, we regret very much that Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons, we made that very clear. I mean, I do have some warm regard for the courage and the stance of General Musharraf in the war against terror. I have great admiration for the risks that he’s taken and the strength he’s displayed. India and Pakistan, to my knowledge, didn’t sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and they don’t, to my knowledge, have the same track record as Iraq. I mean, to compare a country like India which is the probably the – I mean, it’s the largest functioning democracy in the world – with Iraq is very very unfair. And equally, although Pakistan has not had the same familiarity with parliamentary democracy as India, it is nonetheless in many other ways a very very good international citizen. So, I don’t think you can… and I think it’s very unfair on both India and Pakistan to draw that analogy. Catherine, with respect I think you leapt over one of the things I said. I mean, my argument is this in relation to Iraq. Iraq is demonstrably, to use my language, a rogue state. If we don’t make sure that Iraq is disarmed, that of itself will encourage other rogue states to acquire and develop weapons of mass destruction and the more of those states athat acquire, the greater inevitably is the likelihood that those weapons are going to get into the hands of terrorists. And when you have on top of that clear evidence, that I mentioned today, that Al Qaeda – the most lethal of the international terrorist organisations – wants to get its hands on, and in fact is doing its own work in relation to those weapons, you know, that to me is pretty compelling. Now, you say proof, I mean as I say, I can’t prove before an Old Bailey or a Central Criminal Court jury but can I say to you again, I mean if the world waits for that, it’s too late. I mean, that is I said a Pearl Harbour situation.
Laurie Oakes, Nine Network, Prime Minister. I don’t think you answered Catherine’s question, so before I ask mine I’ll ask hers in a slightly different way. We read in the morning papers that you were going to present today evidence from our intelligence agencies of a link between Iraq and terrorists. What happened to that evidence? Why isn’t it in your speech? And since you’ve made no attempt at all to demonstrate a link, are we to assume there is none? And then my question after you’ve answered that – the speculation that the US and its allies will stop seeking a fresh UN resolution against Iraq before launching military action, Spain one of the co-sponsors has indicated there’s not much point if it’s not going to get through. Is that your information and how do you feel about that?
Well, Laurie, in answer to the second question – I’ve had a number of discussions about what’s happening in the UN, the latest information I have is that there is still a very concerted effort being made to get a resolution through. Now, it’s a fluid situation, things can often change but they’re still trying very hard. As for the first question, well I read what was in the paper this morning and I’m not entirely responsible for what’s in the newspapers, although I’m sometimes responsible for some of it. I’m perfectly happy to plead guilty to that. What I endeavoured to do today was to do two things – to establish clear evidence that terrorist groups wanted weapons of mass destruction and I think I did that and I think I did that quite convincingly. I’ve never represented to anybody that we could produce what I called Darlinghurst or Old Bailey proof.
… you didn’t need six intelligence agencies to tell you Osama bin Laden wanted nasty weapons.
Well, no, I didn’t but I think by the reaction of some people, they did.
Tony Wright from the Bulletin, Prime Minister. If, as Donald Rumsfeld suggested a couple of days ago, Britain decided not to go ahead in the Gulf. How comfortable would you have been for Australia to be the single deputy to the US in any strike on Iraq? And when you deployed Australian troops in the first place, did you imagine at that time that Australia could still be in the position of being the only other nation that troops in the Gulf, other than the US and Britain, at this time?
Well, I think it’s… I didn’t see a lot of other countries at that time coming in, although we made our decision based on our own assessment. I mean, as to what the British do is a matter for Britain. What we do is a matter for us. Clearly, the presence of the British there is seen by many Australians as an important supplement to the presence of the Americans. I want to say that the leadership that’s been displayed by Tony Blair on this issue in his own party has been extraordinary and I salute him for that. He’s a very strong Labor leader and I think he deserves a great deal of respect for the very strong attitude that he’s taken. He believes very strongly in what he’s doing – I know that, as I do.
Mr Howard, Karen Middleton from the West Australian. The Chief of the Defence Force, General Cosgrove, gave an undertaking today that he would never lie about the activity of our forces in the Gulf, but he also acknowledged the Defence forces have been generally reluctant to discuss publicly particularly the activity about special forces. I’d like to ask you, can you envisage any circumstances in which you would deem it in the national interest not to tell the truth to the Australian people about our forces’ activities in the Gulf?
Well I haven’t come across them yet. It’s a hard question. I don’t want to mislead the Australian people. Sometimes you have to be careful if the lives of people are at risk and I hope the Australian people would always understand that. But as to whether I would set out deliberately to deceive them, no I hope I never do that.
Paul Bongiorno, Ten News, Prime Minister. The other day President Bush said that Saddam Hussein would be disarmed one way or another. It’s clear that your preferred way is with the backing of the UN Security Council. But what about the other way, and isn’t the logic of your argument today in full agreement with President Bush’s argument that Saddam Hussein is dangerous and must be disarmed one way or the other? And isn’t the other way something that you really can’t resile from in the end?
Well I have never walked away from the possibility that military action would be needed to disarm him. I’ve never walked away from that. And the question of whether we participate in that, clearly we have put ourselves in a position is a question that’s dependent on two things: the final working out of what occurs before the Security Council, and whether ultimately a miracle happens and nothing is needed. But I mean let’s face it, we’ve got nowhere. I mean what is difficult to accept, if I can put it that way, choosing my words very carefully, what is difficult to accept about the non-American position in this whole debate is that the very progress which is now being held up is the reason why the Americans are wrong has been brought as a consequence of the American military build up. I mean somebody said something about heavy lifting. That would have to be the acme of diplomatic heavy lifting in the last ten years.
JOURNALIST:[inaudible], Prime Minister, International Publications, Polish Language Publications. Last week you and Mr Downer met with the Polish Foreign Minister Mr Cimoszewicz, Dr Cimoszewicz I should say. It seems that Poland is one of the few countries at this stage, or perhaps a limited number of countries in the coalition of the willing and I understand that you had discussions on Iraq, on war against terrorism, and on the policy of, or the process of pre-emptive action. Now did you come to any agreements or any common attitudes in supporting the United States in the war with Iraq even without sanctions from the United Nations Security Council?
I don’t think anything that I had in my discussions with him was in any way different from what…further than what I’ve articulated here today or previously. I enjoyed meeting the Foreign Minister. Poland is a country that many Australians feel very warm towards and admire very much and I was delighted to meet him.
Prime Minister, your speech today strikes me as a clear case for regime change in a sense that you’ve raised the humanitarian argument about the regime. I think you’ve backed off a bit from that before. But is it really an addition to your foreign policy armoury now? And my second question is the Americans talk a lot about reshaping the Middle East in terms of geopolitics in Iran, Saudi Arabia. You’ve rarely mentioned that, that we’re buying into that position. Can you comment on that please as well?
Well you’re the commentator about what I’ve said. But our position on regime change has not changed. But I do think that it’s necessary in these public presentation of this whole thing for the Australian public to be reminded of the balance of the humanitarian argument because inevitably when the possibility of war looms people talk about the costs of it, and that is naturally human. I mean we all hate it. Anybody who thinks I’m enjoying having to argue this position in the sense that, you know, I like the idea thath at some stage this country might be involved in a military conflict, I mean nothing could be further from the truth. I’d much rather be talking to you today even about things like the…..the GSTs come and gone, but other things like that, much rather. You know, health policy, having a debate about good water policy with the States, things like that. But I can’t do that. But I do want the Australian people to understand that the humanitarian argument is not all on the side of those who are attacking the stance being taken by the Americans and by implication ourselves and the British. And if it does come to military action I believe there is a very powerful case that the humanitarian balance will point to a better life for the Iraqi people without Saddam Hussein because although regime change is not the primary goal of Australian policies, if it is necessary to forcibly disarm Iraq it is axiomatic that the regime will go. I think most people understand that. But as far as reshaping the Middle East is concerned, well the American Administration can say what it chooses to on that. We’re not necessarily saying exactly the same thing on reshaping the Middle East. I am well known as somebody who is a strong supporter of the State of Israel but I’m not an uncritical friend and nobody should be. But I would like to see the re-elected government of Israel, it doesn’t seem to be quite as possible now because of the structure of the coalition, I would like to see as much responsiveness as possible. I do believe in the establishment of an independent Palestinian State. They do have a right to that, and I welcome the cautious moves to appoint a prime minister for Palestine…the Palestinian Council I think you call it, and I hope we get something out of that and I think there’s a great hunger around the world and I want to make sure that we keep trying. I think it was a mistake that those representatives of the Palestinian Council were not allowed to participate in that conference in London. But can I just say again, how can you ask the Israelis to reach out to certain initiatives when these suicide bombers keep blowing up kids and university students and everything.
Louise Dodson from the Age Prime Minister. When you spoke to President Bush did he actually ask for Australia’s support for his position and did you give it? That’s one question. I was also wondering if you could give us a bit more information on the role Australia would play in the reconstruction of Iraq beyond what you said in your speech.
Well I don’t think, I mean when you say did he ask for my support, what in a military? Well we didn’t discuss anything related to the….any detail of a military campaign. I mean…
JOURNALIST:[inaudible] supporting the UN for….
Well we don’t have a vote on the Security Council. I mean he rang me to sort of really bring me up to date with what was happening and we inevitably talked very freely about the situation and the situation of different countries. I mean I can’t go in and I won’t go in to all of that I’m sorry, but it was the sort of exchange you’d expect us to have given that we’ve trod roughly similar paths on this issue. I don’t want to at this stage go too much into the detail because we haven’t addressed the details. We have argued in relation to the reconstruction phase, we’ve argued for the involvement of the UN and in that respect I think it could be….he said we’re pushing that quite strongly and we think that’s appropriate. I can understand obviously the interest of the Americans as well. We would want to see Australian interests legitimately protected but I mean in a way it makes a bit of a mockery of attempts to still try and achieve some kind of peaceful resolution of the thing if you’re already talking about what happens after the war is over. We will want to be involved in a constructive fashion. We can’t put in peacekeepers, we can’t do that. But we can help in other ways and we will carry our share of the financial burden.
Dennis Atkins, the Courier Mail, Prime Minister. One of the criteria laid down by the Christian Churches when they argue what is and what isn’t a just war is that any action must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Are you confident that that would happen if there was military action in Iraq? And what is your feeling generally about the argument from the churches as was put by the Archbishop of Canterbury to Prime Minister Blair that the proposed attack on Iraq does not meet the criteria for a just war?
… With great respect to the Right Reverand gentleman I don’t think he speaks for the entirety of the Christian Church anymore than, so that I’m seen as completely ecumenical, any more than the Catholic Bishop or Archbishop of Canberra would speak for the entirety of the Christian Church. So there is a variety of views being expressed. I think in sheer number of published views, there would have been more critical than supportive. I thought the articles that came from Archbishop Pell and Archbishop Jensen were both very thoughtful and balanced. I also read a very thoughtful piece from Bishop Tom Frame, who is the Anglican Bishop of the Australian Defence Forces. I agree with you that one of the seven principles that were distilled in both Tom Frame and George Pell’s piece spoke of the discrimination between combatants and non-combatants. In the past, and I can assure you it will be the same in the future, the rules of engagement under which any Australian forces might fight in the future in any conflict, will be our own. They will not be dictated to by any country. There will be separate Australian rules of engagement in any conflict, and indeed there would be separate targeting policies. So we would have our own say in relation to what we would be involved in and whether that coincided with the policies of allies, well we’ll just have to wait and see. But see in these coalition operations, although you may fight under an overall say American commander, our forces would be there under separate national command, and you know I think that has been the case in the past and it will be the case in the future. I think in relation to the attitude of the Churches, which I respect and listen to, there is a variety of views. It reflects the different views in the community. As I say, I think the greater volume of published views would have been critical, but I think there have been some very thoughtful other views and the ones I have mentioned, I certainly include in them.
Mr Howard, Dennis Shanahan from The Australian. You’ve got all Dennis’s today. We’re the odd man out in the region with the strength of our support for the US in disarming Iraq. What steps are you taking to reassure the region, particularly China and Japan, that we are not doing so simply at the behest of the US, and that we will look to regional interests, particularly North Korea, in the future?
Well Dennis, the biggest single step I’ve taken in relation to that was my visit to Indonesia. I’ll come to the countries you’ve mentioned. But I went to Indonesia very deliberately after I had been to Washington and London, to make a couple of points, and I think the linking of the visit to Indonesia of itself with a visit to Washington and London at a time of very significant international difficulties, that of itself was meant to say something to the Government and the people of Indonesia, as well as giving me an opportunity of talking to the Government of Indonesia about the sense of gratitude we felt concerning their investigation of the Bali attack. The most important thing to come out of that visit was the acceptance by President Megawati during our discussions that although there was a difference of policy on Iraq, Indonesia does not see our policy as anti-Islamic and would not see enforcement action in relation to the disarmament of Iraq as anti-Islamic. That was a very important statement, and I thought it was important from our point of view, and it’s important that people know that and it’s important that people in Islamic countries know that. I understand the challenges of the Government of Indonesia in relation to the groups in that country, as I do the challenges for the Government of Pakistan. So far as Japan is concerned, my understanding is that in terms of public statements, Japan has been broadly supportive of the American position. I mean, although Japan does not have personnel pre-deployed, I think Japan’s position is essentially the same as ours. As far as North Korea is concerned, well Australia has taken a very leading role in North Korea. We were the first country to have a diplomatic mission there, led by Murray McLean, and we have pushed a very strong view about how this should be handled. And my point about North Korea is it’s a huge challenge, but if the world is weak about Iraq, it will have no hope of being strong about North Korea. And I believe very strongly that North Korea has taken advantage of some of the range of views around the world on Iraq, to behave in a provocative fashion. So far as China is concerned, China’s Li Peng was in Australia in what October, November of last year. We personally had a discussion about it, and we understood the differences of emphasis as far as Australia and China was concerned. He indicated his desire to see the matter peacefully resolved. I think China understands our relationship with the region, with the United States. I think China also has of course a permanent Security Council status, and how China deploys that is a matter for China. But I would say that in the last few years, one of the really great foreign policy achievements of this Government in our own region has been the relationship we’ve developed with China. And I think we understand each other, and we’ve been able to build on our points of coincidence, as well as recognising that our societies have some fundamental differences.
James Grubel, AAP, Mr Howard. I just want to follow up on your comments a moment ago about the rules of engagement for Australian forces in the Gulf. Presumably some thought has been given to this, given that events are coming to a head. Can you explain to us now whether there will be limits on… will our SAS troops be involved in frontline activities going into Iraq, and can you explain to us will the FA18′s over there be limited in the sort of missions they can undertake, or will they be given a free rein to attack Iraqi strongholds?
No, well look, I can’t go into that detail. We’re just running a little bit ahead of ourselves in asking me to go into that detail. But what I was doing was stating the principle, and that is that there will be separate rules of engagement and there will be a targeting policy to be approved if all of those things become necessary, and that that will be determined by Australia. I mean obviously the Defence Minister and I will be very directly involved in that.