Press "Enter" to skip to content

Iraq: John Howard Speaks To Media After Meeting With Tony Blair

Prime Minister John Howard met with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, following Blair’s statement on Iraq to the House of Commons.

Howard spoke to the media outside 10 Downing Street.

Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s doorstop interview outside Number 10, Downing Street, London.

JOURNALIST: A half an hour chat. What was discussed?

HOWARD: Well we talked about Iraq and also briefly about the meeting I had in Abuja yesterday with President Mbeki and President Obasanjo regarding Zimbabwe. On Iraq it’s fair to say that our views are very similar. I believe that the British Prime Minister has taken a very strong and clear position. His concerns are very close to mine. We are both working very hard. As a permanent member of the Security Council obviously Britain is in the middle of the process in New York. We are both working very hard to marshal support for a Security Council resolution. Both of us remain hopeful that that can be achieved and it can be passed. I think the dossier which was tabled in the House of Commons today is a very strong document which argues a very compelling case. I mean there’s a lot of material in it Iwas very familiar with from previous intelligence briefings. But I think it does add to the accumulation of material and accumulation of evidence and supports very much the line that my government and the British government have taken.

JOURNALIST: If you don’t get UN backing would you still back action and how do you answer critics of that even from within your own party?

HOWARD: Well Matt I take these things one at a time. I remain positive about prospects of getting an appropriate resolution through the Security Council. I think it is important that we all focus on trying to achieve that, that we deal with the alternative if and when that alternative arises.

JOURNALIST: Doesn’t it strengthen your resolve on troops, on sending in Australian troops, the dossier?

HOWARD: The dossier. Well I think the dossier is a very strong document. But look as far as our position of our participation is concerned we take this a step at a time. We are familiar with the planning that has gone on in the United States, the military planning. We’ve indicated that before and we’ll focus right now on getting the support for the Security Council resolutions.

JOURNALIST: How does the dossier help make a case now which couldn’t have been made over the past four years?

HOWARD: Well I have said repeatedly Lenore that there was before the dossier a mountain of evidence in the public domain and what the dossier has done I believe is pull together a lot of the evidence that was already there, add some new elements to the case. But nobody I hear is seriously disputing the proposition that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Nobody I hear is seriously disputing Iraq’s past record of a willingness to not only be an aggressor but also to use chemical weapons in particular circumstances.

JOURNALIST: If the UN inspectors are impeded if they eventually get back in there, do you think war should be the appropriate..?

HOWARD: Look Damien what I’m doing with this is to take it a step at a time. I think that it is very important that the world try very very hard to achieve a diplomatic and political solution to this difficult issue. Nobody wants military conflict. I don’t want it, Tony Blair doesn’t want it, George Bush doesn’t want it. But we can’t leave this issue unaddressed. It won’t go away. If we hide ourselves in a corner it won’t be gone the next morning and people who pretend that it will are deluding themselves.

JOURNALIST: How could UN inspections be effective I mean given Saddam Hussein’s record of hiding things from them before?

HOWARD: Well every time and every situation is different from earlier situations and earlier times. And what we are about at the moment is getting a strong fail safe resolution through the Security Council that will legitimately protect the interests of those who could be victims of the behaviour from Iraq that people legitimately fear.

JOURNALIST: Peter Lindsay has compared a possible pre-emptive strike by the United States without UN backing as similar to something of September 11, the terrorist attack. Is that a comment that should be dispelled by you?

HOWARD: Well I certainly don’t agree with that and I don’t think there’d be many people in Australia who would.

JOURNALIST: Is it an irresponsible comment from him?

HOWARD: No I think people in a situation like this are going to make a range of comments and I respect the fact that different people in different parts of Australia and different parts of the community will have a range of views. I certainly don’t share that view and I don’t think many people in my party would.

JOURNALIST: Did you discuss with Mr Blair any specific role for Australia in the diplomatic manoeuvrings for the UN resolution?

HOWARD: Well we discussed a whole range of things. I don’t know that I want to go into the detail of all of those things.

JOURNALIST: Should there be just one UN resolution?

HOWARD: Well I don’t have a rigid theology on that Matt. I think there’s value in having one resolution but in the end what matters is what is in the resolution or resolutions and the will of people to enforce those resolutions.

JOURNALIST: Is there any point of trying to use the Commonwealth to put pressure on Zimbabwe?

HOWARD: I think the Commonwealth has to be concerned about what has happened in Zimbabwe. What is at stake in relation to Zimbabwe is a central Commonwealth principle of respect for the democratic process. The Troika was given a role in Zimbabwe because of the rorted election and the Commonwealth in the past has upheld very strongly the maintenance of democratic principles and I think it will be to the Commonwealth’s detriment if Zimbabwe is allowed to indefinitely thumb its nose at Commonwealth opinion.

JOURNALIST: The government there has invited you back to inspect the situation first hand. Would you take up that offer do you think?

HOWARD: What’s your next question?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, should there be a link between the events or forthcoming events if any in Iraq and the overall Middle East situation particularly with regard to Israel and Palestine?

HOWARD: A link in what sense?

JOURNALIST: In the overall sense that it’s one Middle East question.

HOWARD: I have never held the view that the situation in the Middle East in relation to the Palestinians and the Israelis is other than a major challenge for the world. I think it remains a huge tragedy that the very generous offer made by Barak some two years ago was rejected by Arafat and I think if it had been accepted the world, particularly the Middle East, would now be a happier place. But there’s a place for the Palestinians. They are entitled to a national home, they are entitled to a state, and the aspiration has to be that it exists alongside a secure defended Israel. We have to continue to work on that. I don’t think you can look at the whole thing as one issue. There are a lot of currents in the Middle East which the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians is but one.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard isn’t there more danger in relation to Iraq if Saddam Hussein knows that the objective is regime change of him using whatever weapons of mass destruction he might have?

HOWARD: I haven’t hypothesised about these things in the past and I don’t intend to start now.

JOURNALIST: You were a true believer before you walked in the door, what’s your position right now as you walked out?

HOWARD: Well I’m not going to use the language of true believers. I don’t want the trivialise the issue. It’s not like that. My views on this issue are very similar to those of Mr Blairs.

JOURNALIST: Are you even more convinced now you’ve spoken to him..?

HOWARD: I don’t know that my views have altered but I think it was a very valuable discussion and I think he’s taken a very strong principled position.

JOURNALIST: Do you think you should now provide a dossier like this to the Australian people, the Australian Parliament?

HOWARD: Look I haven’t ruled out further debate, further involvement of the Australian Parliament. In fact I predict now there will be further debates and further statements to the Australian Parliament on this issue. As to whether we need to provide a dossier as such let me point out that quite a bit of the material that is in the dossier was referred to in Alexander Downer’s statement to the Parliament last week and a lot of the material that we see of course is material that is part of a shared intelligence arrangement between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom and I think people in Australia will read the dossier and gain some insights from it. But I don’t rule things of that nature out but equally there’s a limit to how many different ways you can present the same material.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Malcolm Farnsworth
© 1995-2024