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Myers And Cosgrove: Australian And U.S. Defence Chiefs Confer

The Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, has met with with the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard B. Myers.

The two generals later held a press conference.

  • Listen to the press conference (18m)

Transcript of joint press conference with Generals Peter Cosgrove and Richard B. Myers.

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to, on behalf of all the men and women of the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Defence here in Canberra, to welcome to Canberra General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the professional head of the US Armed Forces. His first visit to Australia in that capacity, although a number of years ago he visited in another capacity. General Myers is most welcome here. He, this morning, had a session with the Prime Minister, this afternoon he’ll see Minister Hill. In between times we’ve had a fascinating hour discussing regional and world events with General Myers and some of his staff, and that meeting was conducted by myself and the Service chiefs, and some of the other officers and officials of the Department of Defence. We’re delighted to have this opportunity to greet the General in Australia, and to discuss not only contemporary operational issues concerning the Armed Forces of our countries but also, I guess, the initiatives and measures towards interoperability that we have been working on very hard over many years. Our interoperability has been shown to be pretty good in recent times, and we do seek to improve that at every possible time. His visit here helps us to both identify the issues we will move ahead, and to – in some ways – to pass on our congratulations to the magnificent effort being performed in so many areas by the US Armed Forces. With that, I’d like the General to make some opening remarks of his own.

GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Thank you very much. Well, g’day everybody. It really is great to be here in Australia with our very good friends and allies. First, I’d like to express my appreciation to General Cosgrove for hosting this visit, and the people of Australia for the warm welcome. I also want to thank the Australian Defence Forces for providing airlift support, technical experts, security personnel and maritime interception operations in Iraq. Because of their commitment they’re helping to create a stable and secure environment, an environment that will facilitate the transition to Iraqi self government.

I have recently been to Iraq and I can tell you that Coalition forces are making a huge difference in the lives of the 25-26 million Iraqi people.

This alliance – this partnership – between America and Australia is strong, and it’s vital. Both our countries have experienced the senseless murder of innocent people at the hands of terrorists. The very nature of the threat demands that the community of nations stand together against this evil threat. We are partners in a war we must fight, in a war that we must win, in a war that we are winning and will win.

QUESTION: General Myers, Peter O’Connor from the Associated Press. General Myers, has there been any consideration at all by the US military to perhaps base any of its forces here in Australia, and has that possibility been the subject of any discussions you’ve had during your visit here?

GENERAL MYERS: That subject was off the discussion of any of our discussions here. What we did discuss were two items. We discussed the US look at how we are arranged globally, and that includes, of course, the Asia-Pacific region. And so we did discuss that.

And we also discussed another initiative that is in the embryonic stages, and which there is a study group that’s going to look at, and that is to possibly create a – a training facility here in Australia, but that’s very embryonic. It’s – it’s being studied to see if that would be worthwhile, but it will not involve the basing of any US forces on Australia. That’s not part of the plan.

QUESTION: So is that a training facility for US troops in Australia?

GENERAL MYERS: It’d be for US and Australian troops. It’d be – it’d be – it’d be a joint venture, and that’s the way it’s being looked at. But it is very embryonic. That’s – we’re just – the scoping activities are just beginning. It’s way too early to even say what that might be at this point.

QUESTION: Belinda Goldsmith from Reuters. Could you give us any details at all about your talks on Australia’s possible involvement in the missile defence programme, and a timetable for when Australia can sign up to [indistinct]?

GENERAL MYERS: I think I’ll defer to General Cosgrove on this one. Actually our – we didn’t talk a great deal about that. Just on a very strategic level.

GENERAL COSGROVE: To go to the second part first, there’s no timetable, because again we’re at the early stages of scoping with the United States what any involvement or participation in a missile defence programme might look like for Australia. What the payoffs for Australia would be in such a – a massive programme that the US would obviously lead and instigate.

So from that point of view, there’s still quite a deal of scoping to be done by quite a few technical experts before either government is in a position to endorse an MoU. And that would be the sensible next step. After gaining that understanding to see what it is that we will agree to in terms of joint research or joint experimentation, or the fielding of any systems.

GENERAL MYERS: And I might just add, I know there’s been some speculation – at least I’m told there’s been some speculation that my trip might have something to do with missile defence. That’s not – we’re here for entirely other purposes, and that’s – is not the reason we’re here.

QUESTION: [indistinct] General, you’ve just ramped up, or are about to just ramp up, [indistinct] allies in the war and reconstruction in Iraq. Is the alliance stronger now? Can you tell us a little about what you think has been achieved during the [indistinct]?

GENERAL MYERS: John, what alliance are you referring to?

QUESTION: I’m referring to the coalition [indistinct].

GENERAL MYERS: Oh, sure. I think it gets stronger every day. We’ve got thirty-eight countries that are involved in Iraq in one way or another right now in terms of the – I’m talking about the security situation. Fourteen more that are thinking about some involvement. I think we get stronger every day the security situation, as we’ve talked about in Iraq is somewhat improved today after the capture of Saddam Hussein, whether or not that trend will continue remains – remains to be seen. But at least that’s the current situation, and we’ve also got a substantial number of Iraqis that have been stood up. They’re the largest part of this coalition now, with almost up to 200,000 Iraqis in their police force and their civil defence corps and their facilities protection services and their border police.

All those Iraqis out there are trying to make a better – a better place for their – their families and their children. So I think we’ve got a very strong alliance as you know. We did stop in Japan. Japan is sending forces to Iraq to be part of this – this operation. We stopped in Mongolia. Mongolia has a hundred and seventy-three there now, and will have another rotation. It will probably be smaller in number.

And of course Australia has forces there doing specific work as well. So, no, I think we’ve got a strong alliance. I think it’s recognised by the international community – the only way you – you end decades and decades of – of terror and torture and attacks on its neighbours is by the international community working really hard at this, and the security sphere, they absolutely are.

QUESTION: [indistinct] You mentioned, General, that you talked about some of the regional aspects. What were some of those regional things that you [indistinct] on general lines?

GENERAL MYERS: Is that for me or for …

QUESTION: Peter Cosgrove.

GENERAL COSGROVE: We don’t let a chance go by without doing a sort of a tour of the horizon, and the fact that the General has visited areas of the wider region that are of keen strategic interest was something that – a matter of discussion. As is generally the case, the actual details of that discussion we just report to our governments.

But we were uplifted to see a very positive approach by the United States to problems we’ve all seen on – on that regional horizon.

QUESTION: General Myers [indistinct]. I understand you’ve also been to China on this trip. What was the Chinese response to the missile shield programme and [indistinct]?

GENERAL MYERS: Actually, again, we didn’t discuss that. We discussed many issues. World-wide issues. Regional security issues. But that’s not one of the issues that we actually discussed. As a matter of fact.

QUESTION: Craig McMurtry, ABC. Can you give us a little bit more on this embryonic idea of the training facility. Where is it likely to be, what sort of training facility, when might you be looking at doing it, and I’m also wondering if the two of you spoke about the tanks.

GENERAL COSGROVE: I can probably answer both those. I stepped in on that. The General was absolutely correct in his earlier remark about the embryonic nature of the proposal. And that – that would include its purpose. Its scope. Its location. The frequency of use. All those sorts of things are aspects to be examined by our experts, particularly between the Australian Defence Force, Department of Defence, other Government agencies in Australia that have a stake, but probably experts more from Pacific command, given the geography, than from perhaps the Pentagon, although at some stage they will of course become involved if there is any further development of the proposal. And we didn’t discuss tanks except to say that the Abrams along with the Leopard are the types of tanks that we are looking at, at the moment. And I’ll add in there for good measure the Challenger. I’ve just been on leave, you see, I’m forgetting my lines.

QUESTION: [indistinct] General Myers. You had a trip to China. On the issue of Taiwan, General, each of the three sides – mainland China, the US, and Taiwan, wants a different scenario. Mainland China wants a peaceful solution to unification and Taiwan apparently is determined to seek a peaceful solution which leads to eventual independence. And the United States is more enthusiastic about peace for status quo, which China and Taiwan see as a means to either unification or independence. The current situation is that the US does not have any official channel to communicate with the Taiwanese, and mainland China doesn’t have any official channel to communicate with the Chinese – with the Taiwanese, beg your pardon. What role would the US play in the future in terms of constructive roles in mediations between mainland China and Taiwan. General?

GENERAL MYERS: Well, let me take a slight exception to your description of US policy towards the issue. The – President Bush made it very clear to Premier Wen when he visited Washington DC on nine December that the US adheres to the one China policy, and we will be faithful to the three communiques. We will also be faithful to the Taiwan Relations Act, and that – that unilateral effort to change the status quo is unacceptable. That effort to solve this by force is unacceptable. That peaceful resolution is recognised to be obviously the preferred course, and – and – and very possible. And so that’s where the US is on the issue. The President made it very clear. Which I think is just a little bit different than the way – the way you phrased it. And we did discuss that with my Chinese counterparts, and had a good discussion over that. The US does have means to talk to the Taiwanese leadership, through diplomatic channels. It’s a little bit outside my lane, but it’s doing so to try and ensure that there’s a peaceful outcome to the situation.

QUESTION: Chelsea Martin from the Financial Review. General Cosgrove, is there a timeframe or a timeline for the [indistinct] the training [indistinct]. And General Myers, you mentioned earlier that the purpose of your trip was not about the missile defence. Can you just run through briefly was the main purpose of your trip to Australia was?

GENERAL COSGROVE: Thanks. For my part, we don’t have a set of milestones there, except we would like to be able to report progress on developing the notion at the Australia – United States ministerial level talks. Simply because it’s a worthwhile subject to talk about, and we do wish to provide the political leadership with more to go on than they’ve got at the moment. At the moment it’s a fledgling idea, and if that’s in the – if that set of discussions is in, say, the middle of this year, then we’ll start to get cracking a bit faster than we’re going now.

GENERAL MYERS: The purpose of the visit is sort of a natural – a natural one, and that is to come to Australia and with my counterpart, General Cosgrove, talk about security issues that are of mutual interest to both our countries.

This partnership that the United States and Australia have had for going back a long, long time is important to both countries. The security dimension is important, and we have lots of things to talk about. And – and we did that today. We did a once around the world, and we’ll probably talk more about that as the day goes on and as the evening goes on as well, and for that matter probably into tomorrow. But that’s – that’s what it’s all about, and it’s – it’s a chance to come out and here and have some face to face discussions about a wide range of topics.

QUESTION: Mark [inaudible] from News Limited. Just carrying on about the training facility. Whose initiative? Who actually has first brought that up? Is it a US initiative that you’d like [inaudible] or is it actually an Australian initiative to have a US presence here?

GENERAL COSGROVE: I’d like to say we thought of it simultaneously but that wouldn’t satisfy you. I think it was Admiral Fargo, CINCPAC, who wondered whether there was any constituency and perceived shared value in that idea. And we were ready to agree that we should look into it.

GENERAL MYERS: I guess I’ve been around long enough to know that this notion has been around for a long, long time, and I’ve spent a pretty good part of my career in the Pacific. And so this is actually not a new idea but it’s got some vitality now that it probably didn’t have in the past, and we’re going to have to wait and see where it leads. It’s too early to tell. So, I wish we could answer all your questions on that, but we can’t.

OFFICIAL: We have time for one more question.

QUESTION: General, I’m Dennis Grant, from SBS Television. I think that in previous commands you’ve come to Australia and are of course aware of its unique strategic geographical significance. I wonder – and I know that General Cosgrove will have told you a good deal about the Australian Defence Force [inaudible].

I wonder if you could give an indication as to which of Australia’s strategic and military assets would be of value to the missile defence systems program?

GENERAL MYERS: Well, I think – first of all, I think it’s too early to make a judgement about that. This will certainly be Australia’s call on how they want to work with – inside the program. And I think it’s good we’re having these discussions, they can take place on a couple of levels. There’s some technical issues that will probably be discussed. There’s also a concept of operations, which is sort of where you were headed, Dennis, with your question, that has to be discussed. And there will be teams here to discuss that and, as General Cosgrove said, they’ll eventually result in a memorandum of understanding that will qualify all this. But it’s premature to talk about it, and actually we didn’t spend much time today talking about that at all.

GENERAL COSGROVE: We’ll make this the last one.

QUESTION: Andrew [inaudible] of the Associated Press. This is for both of you. I’m sort of curious with the [inaudible] of status and capabilities of Jemaah Islamiyah and, General Cosgrove, Australia’s role in [inaudible].

GENERAL COSGROVE: JI, while it’s obviously a regionally based terrorist organisation of course is part of the globalised phenomenon of terrorism, and we therefore share interest in it. But if I could comment, particularly from a regional perspective here, you should note that the vast weight of Australia’s effort to detect and deter and defeat terrorism – regional terrorism, JI and others – is on the intelligence and ordinary law and order side. We seek very much, through MOUs established with a range of regional countries, to have information and intelligence exchange which will lead them to knowing anything we know of interest about those terrorists and how to apprehend them. And the military option – and you’re directing this to a soldier – but the military option stands behind that, ready to be activated if it needs to. But the vast preference by Australia and all of our regional neighbours is to resolve it through good intelligence, good sharing of information and a whole raft of law and order programs, including detection and arrest, to eradicate it. That’s for JI and any of their fellow travellers. Thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen. General Myers and I are delighted to be here, and thank you for your attendance.

GENERAL MYERS: Thank you.

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