Thursday January 27, 2022
Print  


Howard Targets Crean Over Iraq

March 16, 2003

John Howard, Prime Minister & Deputy Sheriff The Prime Minister, John Howard, has used a Sunday press conference in Sydney to ramp up his political attack on the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Crean. Arguing that the ALP now had three policy positions on Iraq, Howard quoted approvingly from statements by Michael Costello, the former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and ALP pre-selection candidate, "that there is adequate legal authority under existing resolutions of the United Nations Security Council for action to be taken without the need of a further resolution."

Howard's comments follow those of his Treasurer, Peter Costello, expressed in an interview with Neil Mitchell on Sky News last night, that the United Nations should not be permitted to determine Australian foreign policy.

Praising Britain's Tony Blair as a "strong Labour leader", Howard claimed "Mr Crean is very confused as to why he's taking the position he is. He said that the American action was unilateral, yet Michael Costello has blown that out of the water and demonstrated what is the case and that is that under the existing resolutions of the Security Council there is adequate legal authority for military action to be taken, without the necessity of a further resolution."


This is the transcript of the press conference held in Sydney by the Prime Minister, John Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I've called this news conference for two reasons. Firstly I want to report on the likely further developments in relation to the United Nations, particularly following a telephone conversation I had last night with the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair. We spoke at his request last night for about 25 minutes. He will of course be meeting the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Spain in the Azores this weekend. They will discuss what might happen to the resolution that the three countries have sponsored before the Security Council. The prospects of that resolution or some roughly equivalent or acceptably amended form passing the Security Council now appears very remote indeed largely due to the intransigent attitude being taken by one of the other permanent members. The British and the Americans have tried very hard to get the 18th resolution passed by the Security Council and I understand that they'll continue to do so and obviously at that meeting they will discuss all of the options that are available to them as the co-sponsors of the original resolution.

Mr Blair indicated to me his continued strong support for the position he's previously taken. He feels very strongly that it's in the interests of not only his own country but also international order generally that Iraq be effectively disarmed. He does not believe that a continuation of the long drawn out and unproductive process of the last 12 years is going to lead to the successful disarmament of Iraq. The issue will obviously come to a head over the days ahead and I think it's fair to say that the position in relation to that resolution will be known within the next few days.

The other reason I called this news conference is to make some comments on the two inherent contradictions in the position being taken by the Australian Labor leader, Mr Crean. This morning on the Sunday program he argued that Australian troops should be withdrawn immediately, or certainly if the resolution is not passed. In fact he argued that they shouldn't have gone there in the first place. So either observation is equally the same. Although he acknowledged that the major reason why the weapons inspectors were back in Iraq was the pressure exerted by the presence of American and British forces. It seems to me that this both contradictory and hypocritical. If it's wrong for the Australian forces to be there then in advance of the 18th resolution of the United Nations then presumably it is wrong for the American and British forces to be there, but of course he can't say that any more than the French can say that because they realise that if the American forces hadn't gone there the weapons inspectors would not be back in Iraq and the whole basis of their alternative policy is that the weapons inspectors should be given more time. Mr Crean has in effect got himself in the same position as the French in that argument in that he's saying in effect that the British and American forces should remain there indefinitely and it is self evidently not the case that forces of that magnitude can remain indefinitely in that kind of position.

The other observation I would make about Mr Crean is the basis of the Labor Party's assertions that any action taken without a further resolution would be illegal. It seems on reading what Mr Crean said this morning and what others have said, the Labor Party has three positions on this. Mr Rudd says it would be illegal. Mr Michael Costello, the last head of (the Department of) Foreign Affairs under a Labor government, Mr Beazley's former chief of staff and clearly a Labor man because he sought Labor preselection for the seat of Lowe prior to the 1998 election. Michael Costello has argued as we have, and is the case according to our advice, that there is adequate legal authority under existing resolutions of the United Nations Security Council for action to be taken without the need of a further resolution. The third position the Labor Party has is that of Crean who said on the Sunday program this morning he didn't really know, he was waiting to be told by the legal advice that he'd sought.

The Government position all along has been that you don't need another resolution for legal reasons, you don't need the 18th resolution for legal reasons. There is international political advantage in having another resolution because a united expression of opinion from the Security Council would send a very strong message to Iraq. But it has never been the case that a further resolution is needed for legal reasons, and in fact speaking on the ABC on Friday morning here in Sydney Mr Michael Costello had this to say in answer to a question from the interviewer: "There's no question, I mean people should be reassured that this is not unlawful this war. If it takes place it is already authorised by the UN."

He also went on to undermine very directly the principal argument that Mr Crean has sought to use and that is that if America did not secure another resolution it would be acting unilaterally. This is what he had to say: "As I've said it's action that's authorised by the resolution of 1990 in my view, so in that sense it is not unilateral action."

And it's also interesting that in the same interview Mr Costello has said that they set out, meaning France, China and Russia, from the mid 1990s to completely undermine this matter for their own reasons. Now this morning Mr Rudd said it was illegal, Mr Crean said he didn't know, he was waiting on further advice. I suggest they have a look at what Mr Costello had said, Mr Michael Costello has said, and he does speak from the position of having been the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and having been Mr Beazley's Chief of Staff. He was a member of ONA and he does have some understanding of international law. It has always been our position that you don't need another resolution for legal reasons and I think it is important that that be placed on the record and I think the contradictions that are clearly inherent in the Labor Party's position should be recognised. Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what do you think Mr Crean's comments, what effect do you think Mr Crean's comment would have on troops?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't want to say anything about the impact on forces other than to say they have my total support and they should have the total support of all of the Australian people. I do not wish to use them in the context in any way of the differences I have with Mr Crean. Mr Crean has got to make up his mind as to the basis of his objection to what we are doing. He sounds on occasions as if he claims it's illegal, but if you look at what Mr Costello said, and this corresponds with our advice, it's plainly not illegal for action to be taken without a further resolution. The deployment of the forces was in no way illegal and any suggestion that it was illegal to deploy them is quite wrong. If he's arguing that they shouldn't be there for other reasons then by logical extension he should be arguing that the American and British forces shouldn't be there either, and yet everybody knows were it not for the British and American forces being there Iraq would not even have cooperated in the minimal way that she has cooperated in the past few weeks.

JOURNALIST:

His position seems to imply though that the Australian troops aren't making a difference there, that they can be bought back without any...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Australian forces wherever they go always make a very big difference. They are much admired.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister what about Mr Crean's other argument that since we have troops in the region we should also be in Azores at the moment actually part of the process?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am quite sure if I had gone to the Azores he would have criticised me for trying to avoid Parliament. Parliament is sitting on Tuesday, it's plainly unrealistic for me to go to the Azores. In any event the three countries that are meeting in the Azores are the three members of the Security Council, Australia is not a member of the Security Council. As you are aware I'm in regular contact with both President Bush and also Mr Blair. I spoke to President Bush a few days ago, I spoke to Mr Blair last night, I arranged to talk again with Mr Blair and I'm quite I'll talk with President Bush again. So there's absolutely no lack of communication but I guess he has to say something but I'm quite sure I would have been criticised for avoiding Parliament if I'd have participated in the Azores meeting.

JOURNALIST:

Did Mr Blair speak at all about the pressures that he's feeling in the UK from his own backbench about this issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

We had a general discussion as one leader to another, I'm not going to go into the detail of that except to say that it's a great pleasure to talk to a strong Labour leader.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, was Australia invited to the Azores?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. And I didn't expect to be because we're not a member of the Security Council, it's the three countries. No.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard also this morning Tom Schieffer, the US Ambassador, has acknowledged that there is a wave of anti-American sentiment in Australia. What's your reaction to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I didn't see his interview so I don't want to comment on it.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, how far off do you think a war is?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you could still get, at the 11th hour, you could still get a faint possibility of avoiding military conflict if everybody in the Security Council got behind a tough new resolution. Not because it's legally needed but because it would send a united message to Iraq. The problem at the moment is that a united message is not being sent to Iraq and therefore the likelihood of Iraq compromising or capitulating is thereby diminished.

JOURNALIST:

The US Ambassador also spoke about President Bush being a conviction politician like yourself, do you think that President Bush's convictions aren't communicated well around the world given the wave of anti-war protests, that he needs to prove...

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I am a serving Prime Minister and a participant in the political process, I'm not a commentator. Those sorts of observations are for other people to make, not for me. I find dealings with President Bush very straight forward, he has strong views, as many people in public life do.

JOURNALIST:

You described Mr Blair as a strong Labour Leader, do you think Mr Crean's got an each way bet in his opposition to this war?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think Mr Crean is very confused as to why he's taking the position he is. He said that the American action was unilateral, yet Michael Costello has blown that out of the water and demonstrated what is the case and that is that under the existing resolutions of the Security Council there is adequate legal authority for military action to be taken, without the necessity of a further resolution. And I made that very clear on the 4th of February when I addressed the House of Representatives and it's been my position all along. Now that the unilateral argument is not available I don't know what new argument he's going to but you've got him saying he doesn't know, you've got Kevin Rudd this morning saying it's definitely illegal and you've got Michael Costello who would, as a Labor person, know more about the issue than either Mr Crean or Mr Rudd saying what I and the Government believe to be the case and that is there's adequate authority under existing resolutions. Now can I make a further point, in 1998 when Mr Beazley was the leader of the Labor Party we sent 150 SAS to the Gulf with authority to take part in action and that had the support of the Labor Party and that was at the request of President Clinton, nobody at that time said a further resolution was necessary before those troops were either sent there or if they were required to go into action. That wasn't an issue and the reason it wasn't an issue was that everybody accepted that there's already an adequate basis in international law.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, just on the SAS there's a story in the West Australian newspaper today about further allegations about misdemeanours carried out by SAS troops while in East Timor, have you had...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am generally aware of that and the matter is being dealt with in accordance with the appropriate processes and...

JOURNALIST:

Can you explain a bit about those ...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no I don't explain something about an internal matter of that kind, it's been handled in the appropriate way I'm told and when the result of the investigations and inquiries have been completed then the military will have something further to say about it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, do you think that your reputation is on the line internationally if you don't (inaudible) troops in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

I've just indicated I'm not a commentator. What I'm doing here is what I believe to be right, the question of my reputation or indeed other considerations is for others to make judgements about.

JOURNALIST:

Is there any concern that Prime Minister Blair might back out of this at the last minute to save his own political...

PRIME MINISTER:

He didn't seem to me to be a person who is going to back out of anything, Mr Blair is very committed to the course of action that he's taken because he believes that it is interests of his own country and also in the interests of world order. I respect him for that and I admire the strong stand that he's taken.

JOURNALIST:

Is the next week or so a very critical time without getting into a crystal ball gazing exercise that it's a...

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the next week will see matters coming to a head, I don't think there's much doubt about that. But I think it's very important as we start the week off that people understand that there is adequate legal authority under existing Security Council resolutions for action to be taken without the need for a further resolution.

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe the Australian public understands that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the Australian public has a variety of views, I will certainly communicate that very strongly to the Australian public over the days ahead. Very strongly.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, how do you feel about the week ahead in terms of your prime ministership?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look once again you're asking me to be a commentator. Look I am committed to doing what I believe is the right thing in the longer term interests of this country. I've thought about it a lot, I'm very committed to it and nobody should doubt the strength of that commitment. And I believe that the position we've taken is correct and I believe it is in the long term interests of Australia and I believe that everything we've done in the past, what we are doing now, and what we do in the future will be wholly consistent with international law.

JOURNALIST:

Will you be seeking to speak to Mr Crean in the lead up to events of this week to...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I never say yes or no whether I'm going to speak to somebody. I think we'll leave that at that.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Google






Contents | What's New | Notoriety | Amazon Books | ©Copyright | Contact
whitlamdismissal.com | watergate.info | malcolmfarnsworth.com
http://australianpolitics.com/news/2003/03/03-03-16.shtml
©Copyright australianpolitics.com 1995-2014