The Prime Minister, John Howard, has commented on the Blix Report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
Howard praised Hans Blix as a “measured Swedish diplomat” and said the most revealing sentence in the whole report “is when Blix said Iraq appears not to have come to a general acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace”.
- Listen to John Howard (3m)
Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s press conference.
HOWARD: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to make some comments about the weapons inspectors’ report delivered to the Security Council a few hours ago. It’s very clear that this report was even more critical of Iraq than many people expected. The most revealing sentence in the whole report is when Hans Blix said Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace. Now these are the words of a measured Swedish diplomat who is not given to extravagant language, and it does represent a very comprehensive and negative assessment of Iraq’s attitude. As I think the British permanent representative at the UN said, paraphrasing him perhaps : ‘it’s not so much a question of time, it’s a question of Iraq’s attitude’. And it’s evident from this view of Hans Blix that the man entrusted by the Security Council to oversee the inspections has come to the conclusion that Iraq has not even begun as late as now, to recognise the strength of world opinion and to recognise what the world is asking it to do, and that is effectively to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction, the chemical and biological weapons, fully cooperate with the weapons inspectors.
The inspectors may have been afforded access so far as the theory of that is concerned. The process may have been okay, but the substance has been one of continued obstruction and continued deceit. The matter will now, in accordance with the processes of resolution 1441, the matter will now go to the Security Council for discussion. It remains the very strong view of the Australian Government that this matter should be resolved effectively through the Security Council. The Security Council now has a clear obligation to match with action the words of 1441. It was after all a resolution that was passed by a vote of 15-0, a unanimous resolution that recalled earlier breaches by Iraq, imposed a very strong inspections regime on Iraq, described what would constitute further material breaches. It is now for the Security Council to consider the matter. And I believe that the Security Council must address very carefully what its obligations are under that resolution, taking into account what the weapons inspectors have said, taking into account what Hans Blix has said, taking into account the long litany of specific issues which have not been adequately addressed by Iraq.
The understatement of the amount of the chemical weapon VX produced by Iraq, the failure to account for 6,500 bombs containing 1,000 tonnes of CW agent, the failure to declare 12 rockets found by inspectors with warheads modified for delivery of chemical weapons, and so the list goes on. These are matters of failure on the part of Iraq which have been listed by Hans Blix. So it is, in every sense of the word, a highly critical report and one that must be very carefully considered by the Security Council. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Iraq or should the Security Council considering this, consider giving them more time to comply, or do you think that this report says – you know, you’re beyond redemption?
HOWARD: My view is that there should be some more time, but not a lot. What really matters is the point that the Foreign Minister made very well last night on The 7.30 Report, that if you thought you were getting somewhere then a significant amount of time would be justified, if you think you’re getting nowhere then perhaps only a shorter amount of time is justified. It’s really a question of the attitude of Iraq if I can jump from the Foreign Minister to the British permanent representative in New York. What this report shows is that Iraq’s attitude is of stubborn non-compliance, stubborn indifference to the opinion of the world. You’re not dealing here with the President of the United States, you’re not dealing here with me or the British Prime Minister or the President of France, you’re dealing here with a resolution of the Security Council and you’re dealing here with the views of the independent former Swedish Foreign Minister, a diplomat who’s been appointed to carry out these inspections. Now I have said before, and it remains my view, that I believe some more time is justified but I’ve also said it can’t be unlimited and I am discouraged by the attitude of Iraq as shown in this finding. This is a very tough report, it’s a lot tougher frankly than many people predicted.
JOURNALIST: So what should the Security Council say and do precisely Mr Howard? You said it must now face up to its obligations.
HOWARD: Well I think what the Security Council should do is to ensure that the terms of Resolution 1441 are complied with in full by Iraq.
JOURNALIST: But how?
HOWARD: Well Michelle, you know what the resolution is, I’m sure you’ve read it, what I am saying is that the Security Council now has to meet its obligations. The Security Council saw fit to pass by 15 to nil a resolution in the strongest possible terms, it appointed some inspectors, you now have the chief inspector saying what he said, it goes back to the Security Council and what I believe the Security Council should do is to apply comprehensively and meticulously the provisions of Resolution 1441. If it doesn’t do that we’re going to go back to the endless obfuscation and the endless delay and trickery of the last 12 years. And can I just remind you again that the heart of this argument, the heart of this whole issue, is the danger to the world of allowing the spread of chemical, biological and potentially nuclear weapons. Each nation that is allowed, extra nations that’s allowed to get away to possessing them, to get away with the sort of conduct that Iraq is engaged in, it makes it a more dangerous world for all of us. I mean that is why I am concerned about this issue because I do believe very genuinely that in the circumstances in which the world now finds itself, the potential spread of these weapons, particularly into the hands of rogue states and Iraq is clearly one of those, it has a worst track record than most, it does represent a very significant danger to the world and that is why in the first place the United Nations got involved in this and it’s important that the Security Council meet its obligations because this whole issue is a challenge for the United Nations. Now if the United Nations is to retain its authority it has to match by deeds the rhetoric of its own resolutions. You can’t pass a resolution like 1441 and when it gets a bit difficult walk away from it without damaging your credibility.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister how much more time does Iraq have to fully comply, you’re talking two weeks? The end of February?
HOWARD: Well that ultimately Jim as a matter of fact is something for the Security Council to determine.
JOURNALIST: It may not be.
HOWARD: Well it remains my hope and it remains the view of the Australian Government that carriage of this matter should be retained by the Security Council and it’s always been my view that this matter should be worked through to the maximum extent feasible by the United Nations. And I want the United Nations process to be given a go. Now that’s the reason why I urged President Bush back in September of last year to go to the General Assembly and because of what the Americans did the matter is now back with the United Nations, they passed this tough resolution, they appoint inspectors, the inspectors bring in a report which is frankly tougher than most people expected, much tougher than most people expected. What must now happen is that the Security Council has to go back. Now as to how much more time, Jim I can only repeat without much variation what I’ve said before, I’m in favour of a little more time but not too much and I’m certainly not talking about months.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned Prime Minister by reports out of the United States that America is looking to use nuclear weapons or could be looking to use nuclear weapons in Iraq?
HOWARD: Well I’ve been told that there’s nothing in what we have observed in relation to American military preparations for Iraq to support that.
JOURNALIST: Mr Downer has suggested Mr Blix should be reporting back to the Security Council on February the 14th…
HOWARD: Well I think he has to anyway.
JOURNALIST: Should the Security Council be delivering an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to provide full co-operation by that date or else?
HOWARD: I’m not going to express a view on that suggestion. That really is a matter for the Security Council. I’ve laid out our position, the Security Council has the responsibility now of matching the rhetoric of its own resolution by further action and by further deeds. How they choose to do that, I think they should be allowed to talk about and to resolve. I don’t think it achieves anything for me to be saying well you’ve got to do this and this and this.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, going back to the Security Council. You said it’s your preference for the UN to deal with it.
HOWARD: I said it was the policy of the Government to have this matter handled through the United Nations process to the maximum degree possible.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] the positions of France, China and Russia. If there is not agreement, what would Australia do then? What would be your position?
HOWARD: Well I’m not going to speculate about that. I don’t know what is going to be the reaction of the various permanent members to the report of Hans Blix. I think the Blix report has put a somewhat different complexion on the whole issue.
JOURNALIST: Russia said for example today that they thought that report showed that there had been some progress, enough progress they said.
HOWARD: Well as in all of these things, it’s unwise to be adjusting your position according to the latest piece of commentary. We have a position. We’ve articulated it. It’s the considered view of the Government that we should give the United Nations process an opportunity of working. Clearly Blix has made a very strong report. Clearly his frustration is evident. And one of the things I find interesting is that he didn’t ask for more time. I think that is very, very interesting. ElBaradei asked for more time but Blix didn’t.
JOURNALIST: At what point do you, as the Prime Minister, start to look at whether or not you would support a coalition of the willing, given that these real divisions are there in the Security Council?
HOWARD: Catherine what I’m saying is what is the current position of the Government and that is we want the process to work. The next step is for the Security Council to do its job. The Security Council passed a resolution, and I don’t want to say, do anything to divert attention from that. The Security Council now has the responsibility of matching the resolution that it unanimously passed, with appropriate action. Now what form that takes I don’t at this stage want to speculate.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are we one of the 12 nations or so who have already indicated to America that we would be part of the coalition of the willing?
HOWARD: Our position is as I have explained it. We have not made a final decision about military involvement. No final decision has been taken in any event by the United States. We have pre-positioned Australian forces because we believe that contributes, albeit in a much smaller way obviously than the pre-positioning of other forces, to reinforcing the diplomatic efforts. And I’ll say again, that’s the view of Kofi Annan who believes that the inspectors wouldn’t be there had it not been for the American military build-up. We also think it’s fairer on our forces if we ultimately do decide to commit them, to commit them when they’ve had an opportunity of being pre-positioned. But our position hasn’t changed. That is our position and if there’s any alteration on that, well I will naturally inform the Australian public.
JOURNALIST: Are we closer to this war with this report, as Mr Downer said this morning?
HOWARD: Look I’m not going to use… you know, look everybody has a different way of responding to these things. It’s a very serious and difficult issue and it is not something where I’m in the business of particular grabs or whatever. We’ve got a report. It’s much tougher on Iraq. It’s much more critical of Iraq than many people predicted or expected. And it really does now put the spotlight back on the Security Council. I mean they passed that resolution and I’m sure you’ve all read that resolution. It’s a very tough, comprehensive resolution. So presumably 15-0 they meant what they were saying. And they now have a responsibility to match the rhetoric of that resolution with action. If they don’t do that, then they will deliver an enormous blow to the authority and the prestige of the United Nations.
JOURNALIST: Is there any scope now for the Security Council to come up with a non-military resolution?
HOWARD: Well look, I think the only thing that can happen now, and should happen now, is for the Security Council to do its job.
JOURNALIST: What is that job? Is that job to sanction military force?
HOWARD: Its job is to ensure that Iraq complies with the resolution that it carried. That’s its job.
JOURNALIST: Well Michelle, precisely how that occurs is a matter for the United Nations but you know as well as I do the terms of that resolution. I’m not going to put words into the mouth of the Security Council. I don’t need to. They adopted certain words themselves. They adopted, in full knowledge of what those words meant, they talked about material breach, they talked about serious consequences, they recalled the previous behaviour of Iraq. Now there comes a point where if the United Nations is to preserve its credibility, then the United Nations has got to match the rhetoric of what it said with action.
JOURNALIST: Does it logically follow then Prime Minister that military action is a last resort, if Iraq [inaudible]
HOWARD: Well military action is always a last resort and one that we all hope can be avoided. There is one country in the world that could solve all of this, and that’s Iraq. Iraq is the only country acting alone that can guarantee a peaceful outcome to this. Guarantee a peaceful outcome. I don’t want to see military conflict. I hate the very idea of it. It’s an abomination. I don’t like it one bit. Anybody who thinks that this Government is keen to have military conflict has got rocks in their heads. Nobody wants military conflict. But if you’re going to maintain the credibility of an international organisation, if you’re going to prevent the further spread of these weapons, and I am really genuinely concerned about the threat they pose to the security of the world. Just imagine the attitude of North Korea if Iraq gets away with this. I mean what price controlling North Korea if Iraq gets away with thumbing its nose yet again at the United Nations?
JOURNALIST: Given your concern about the spread of nuclear weapons and North Korea and you raise that matter now, do you think it’s about time that the North Korean matter was brought into formal UN consultation….?
HOWARD: Well I believe that the North Korean issue has to be addressed and part of addressing it will be for it to come before the United Nations. I don’t accept for a moment that by a focus on Iraq we’re in some way indifferent or passive about North Korea. Australia in fact has taken a leading role already in trying to achieve a diplomatic solution in relation to North Korea. People say well you’re seeking a diplomatic solution with North Korea, why not Iraq? Well there are slightly different stages. My rough calculation is that North Korea has been in acknowledged breach of its obligations under the Non Proliferation Treaty for twelve weeks and Iraq’s been in defiance of the United Nations for twelve years. Now clearly if you’re going to treat the two of them the same you’ll have quite a long period of….technically you would have a long period of diplomacy with North Korea. But I have no doubt that the issue of North Korea has to be faced but the point I’m making is that if Iraq which has been the subject of all of these resolutions, if Iraq is allowed to escape compliance with the United Nations’ resolution, I repeat, what price then of getting North Korea because nations copy each other. If a climate of least resistance is allowed to spread then other nations will adopt the same belief and there will be further consequences. It’s not easy, it’s not something I like for a moment and I wish I could be having a press conference with you about some, by comparison, relatively benign domestic issue. But the world in which we live is not like that and this issue has to be faced and dealt with and if the United Nations doesn’t match its responsibilities it will do itself a grievous injury and will I think leave a legacy of a more precarious world.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can you explain why Australia is only the third nation to have pre-deployed if you like, and doesn’t this create the perception that we have been leant on rather heavily by the Americans to do so?
HOWARD: Well we haven’t been lent on rather heavily by the Americans. We have a close relationship with the United States and I don’t make any apology. It’s not the dominant reason, it’s not the major reason but it’s an important consideration in this whole issue. Australia has a long standing association with the United States and whenever these issues are under consideration the nature of that relationship should be factored in and that I might say has been the policy of successive governments in Australia of both political persuasions. It’s not only Coalition governments in office have paid regard to the American alliance. So have Labor governments and that’s good because there’s no association which is more important to Australia’s permanent security than our association with the United States. But we haven’t been leant on. The question of other countries, well let’s wait and see what unfolds. I mean we do what we do because we judge it to be the right thing for Australia to do. Other countries do what they do because of judgements they make.
JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, is there a reason that we didn’t wait a few days until the Blix report came out before we pre-deployed?
HOWARD: Is there a reason?
JOURNALIST: Yeah. Could you have…would it not have made…..
HOWARD: Well to start with I didn’t know what was in the Blix Report but in any event we made the judgement having regard to the advice we had from the defence people that if we wanted to be in a position, if we decided to make a contribution then we had to begin pre-positioning and that’s the reason we chose to begin the pre-positioning when we began the pre-positioning. That’s the reason. Thank you.