Press Conference with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander DownerRichard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State
Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices
December 13, 2002
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER:
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER:Iím delighted to welcome Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Australia. Iíve had the opportunity to have extensive discussions with him in the latter part of this morning, as well as a lunch. Most recently weíve come from a meeting of about an hour, I think, with the Prime Minister and Senator Hill, the Defense Minister. Itís been an opportunity for us to talk about Iraq and what the current situation is in relation to the pursuit of Security Council Resolution 1441, and also to talk about the situation in North Korea. Certainly for Australiaís partó and Iíll let Rich speak for the United Statesó but for Australiaís part weíre very concerned about recent developments in North Korea. Itís been fortuitous that the Deputy Secretary of State has been here, so weíve been able to compare notes on that issue. Obviously, and importantly, weíve had a good discussion about the campaign against terrorism, and in particular, the situation in Southeast Asia in relation to terrorism. So itís been a very constructive, very positive series of discussions and we obviously very much appreciate the Deputy Secretary of Stateís visit and his observations, and the opportunity he has given us to share our thoughts as well with him. So Rich, over to you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you very much Mr. Minister. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. President Bush had asked me to come to Asia to consult with friends and allies, most noteworthy of whom, of course, is Australia. Iím delighted to have been chosen for this mission. The President wanted me to expose our Australian friends to our latest thinking on Iraq, next steps after the declaration, etc., and also to talk about the continuing search for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. He also asked me to seek the views of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister and any advice they may have both on the situation of Iraq and with North Korea. And of course we did discuss the global war on terrorism and Afghanistan, and as the Minister indicated, closer to this region, the problems of terrorism in Southeast Asia. So Iíd be delighted to attempt to answer any questions you may have.
QUESTION: How serious is the threat emerging from North Korea at the moment, given the interception of the Scud missiles and the comments about the oil being cut off?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think the situation is serious and has been serious for some time. Their recent stated decision to remove themselves from the IAEA at Yongbyon is a regrettable development, but weíll have to wait a while and see what they actually do. On the question of the Scud missiles, it was not a secret to anyone in the world that North Korea was one of the major proliferators. Every one of our top officials has stated this time and time again. I think the message of the stopping of the ship off the Horn of Africa was a very sound and severe message to the North Koreans that we know what theyíre doing, we know where they are. They can run. They canít hide.
QUESTION: What about the nuclear threat?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well the nuclear threat has been developing for some time. Unclassified releases from the United States over the past couple of years have indicated a very strong possibility that they may already have a nuclear weapon. But we believe that the situation on the Korean peninsula lends itself to the possibility of a diplomatic solution, given that the nations in the immediate area, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea-- and the United States-- all share absolutely the same view that the peninsula must be denuclearized. Thatís a pretty good basis to attempt to move forward diplomatically. Thatís what weíre trying to do.
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: Can I just say on the issue of North Korea. This afternoon, I instructed my Department to summon the North Korean ambassador and to ask the North Korean ambassador to pass back to Pyongyang that we would like a full explanation from the North Koreans about the statements that apparently have elicited from the North Korean foreign ministry, where North Korea says itís going to reopen its nuclear processing plant and possiblyóIím not quite sure whether this is going to happenóto expel IAEA inspectors. So weíve asked the Koreans for a full and frank explanation of what they position sincerely is, and we hope-- heíll pass that message back to them-- we hope to get an answer before long.
QUESTION: The Koreans are saying this afternoon that the interception of the ship was an act of piracy. How do you respond to that?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thatís absurd. I donít even know why youíd raise it. An unflagged, stateless ship carrying contraband cargo. We had every right to stop it. The Spanish navy stopped it, searched it. We found the papers in disorder, established this fact for the whole world, and then let the shipment continue. So I find the statement absurd.
QUESTION: New Zealand is one of the countries which originally paid hard cash in the oil program for North Korea. The foreign minister there, Mr. Goff, has just said that he opposes what North Korea is doing but he says, quote, an assurance that they wonít be attacked might help resolve the situation. Can you give such an assurance?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: My remembrance is that the President of the United States said that we have no intention of invading North Korea. That sounds like a pretty good assurance to me.
QUESTION: Will the fuel oil sales to North Korea be resumed?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I donít believe so.
QUESTION: Mr. Armitage, you just had a visit to China and you just had a dialogue with the newly appointed Chinese general staff of the Peopleís Liberation Army. According to the Chinese news media, the Chinese hosts, that the United State will appropriately handle the arms sales to Taiwan. What is your response, and also what does the United States wish China to do to stop the nuclear threat from North Korea?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Two rather unrelated questions. On the first, I believe we have handled arms sales to Taiwan in an appropriate manner, completely consistent with our domestic law and with our obligations under the three joint U.S.-China communiquťs. I assured General Liang that it was our intention to continue to do so. On the question of what we want China to do with North Korea, China will do obviously whatís in her national interest. It seemed obvious to me that it was in Chinaís national interestóin fact they stated to meóthat the peninsula be denuclearized. So we hope that they will use all of their influence on the DPRK to try to help them get out of the situation, or the cul-de-sac, that theyíve put themselves in. Hoping that the DPRK will get themselves out is not sufficient. I think all of us have to be working assiduously to try to get them out of the cul-de-sac.
QUESTION: In relation to Iraq, if a war does break, what sort of commitments does the United States want from Australia?
Armitage : We would like the commitment that Australia would act in her national interest. Thatís for Australians to determine. Itís not for an American visitor to determine.
QUESTION: Could you tell us what your evaluation of the Iraqi response is? That contradicts the claim by President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Howard that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. So does that make it more likely that a military option is necessary?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, as I understand it, Greg, the declaration was very heavy in terms of kilograms. I havenít been able to read it yet, as Iíve been traveling. Iím not sure itís weighty in terms of its content. The P-5 right now are studying the documents. Mr. Blix and Mr. El Baradei will be reporting eventually to the Council on the matter. Weíll determine if itís a full, complete and final declaration. I think that there is a healthy degree of skepticism in the United States about the Iraqi willingness to have a full, complete and final declaration. But obviously, we have to read the document and make a decision, and we shall.
QUESTION: Were there any undertakings given by either country in discussions this afternoon?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: There was a very solemn undertaking by the United States that we would endeavor at every turn to keep our friends in Australia completely apprised of our views and our plans. That was the only undertaking.
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: And we, as you know, went into todayís meetings really to have a general discussion about the situation pertaining to Iraq. We didnít go in there with a view to making formal commitments, or the United States making demands or requests of us. This was just an excellent opportunity for us to have a broad discussion about, amongst other things, the issue of Iraq. Any questions of commitments or otherwise of course could only be finally answered in the context of whether there is going to be or whether there is not going to be any military conflict.
QUESTION: How do you view support in the region for an attack on Iraq, given that youíve obviously been touring these countries? Do you believe itís growing or shrinking? Are there any countries that are showing (inaudible)?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: When youíre talking about the region, youíre talking about the Asia-Pacific region?
QUESTION: The Asia-Pacific region, sorry.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I found extraordinarily good support for the activities of the United States involved in the UN Security Council Resolution 1441. I found a healthy degree of skepticismó
QUESTION: What countries are you talking about?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: You asked in the Asia-Pacific, I have just come from Japan, Korea, China, and now obviously here. I found a healthy degree of skepticism about the willingness of Saddam Hussein to fully and completely disarm. I found that politically we got a great deal of support. I was not asking, as the Foreign Minister has indicated, for any specific thing. We were just exposing people to our views and soliciting theirs. I found pretty fair support for the course of action in which we are embarked.
QUESTION: Whatís your assessment of Australiaís investigating into terrorist links in Southeast Asia?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: As I understand it, the activities of Australia to try to root out terrorism wherever it exists in this area, and the assistance that they have rendered in the global war on terrorism, has been exceptional. Itís not my area of expertise, but our fellows tell us they enjoy no greater collaboration than with the Australians.
QUESTION: Two of the countries in the region are Indonesia and Malaysia. Any plans to visit them?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I donít on this trip.
QUESTION: Why not?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Because Iíve done four countries in six days and Iíve got to get back.
QUESTION: You said during a recent visit here last year that you expected Australians to fight and to die in defense of the United States under the defense alliance, that if you call we should come running. Is that still your interpretation?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: My interpretation is that Australians are people who stand by their mates. Australians are people who want to have a fair go. I think weíre the type of people who will try to stand by our Australian mates, as we have in the past. I canít imagine any great endeavor in the world going on without some sort of collaboration between Australia and the United States. Itís certainly possible, and Australia is going to make decisions which are in her own national interest. But itís hard for me to imagine that two allies like ourselves wouldnít be involved in the great issues of the day together.
QUESTION: You talked about Southeast Asia together. Was there anything that the two of you came to conclusions, how you might have to work on to try and root out terrorism in the region?
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: As you know, it ultimately is a matter for the broad international community, not just Australia and the United States to address. That includes the countries of Southeast Asia. They, like us, like the United States and like others have to do everything they possibly can to try to root out terrorism from within their own countries. Countries of Southeast Asia are doing that. We obviously take the viewó Rich can speak for the United Statesó but itís clear to me they take the view that we should do what we can to assist them where they would like assistance. Thatís that basis of us having memoranda of understanding on counterterrorism with Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and prospectively, the Philippines, and possibly also India. Weíve been talking about collaboration with India as well. Obviously we have a very traditional and close relationship on intelligence and defense with Singapore. So we have had good collaboration with them and we are going to continue to work at that. I think it is very important that the countries of the region, as well as the United States and others, work together in trying to deal with terrorism, because terrorism is a trans-boundary issue. Itís not a single-nation issue. Trans-boundary issues have to be dealt with in trans-boundary ways.
QUESTION: What are the odds of ever finding Osama bin Laden?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I have no idea.
QUESTION: President Putin visited China during this month and obviously there is huge arms sales between China and Russia, and China is renovating its jet fighters, presumably trying to deal with Taiwan. Also the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said earlier this week that the Chinese deployment of missiles along the Taiwan Strait is a display of sovereignty of China. Do you have a comment on that? And also, when President Clinton was in office he mentioned the "three noís" to Taiwan. When President Bush came to power he adopted a different policy. How do you secure the consistent American policy toward Taiwan?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I would say that since 1979 there has been a remarkably consistent policy towards Taiwan. It has involved an unofficial but very robust relationship. It is guided and advised by the Taiwan Relations Act, which is the law of our land. Weíve had the ability, I believe, to manage the question of the Taiwan Strait with wisdom because of the wisdom of leaders in China, Taiwan and the United States, and we home to continue to do so. On the matter of consistency of policies, democratic societies vote in new leaders with stunning regularity to either put a stamp of approval on policies or to try to change them. On the question of Taiwan and the United States, there has been remarkable bipartisan support for the course of action on which weíve been embarked for 23 years.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) new nuclear facilities in Iran? Could you perhaps sort of elaborate on the distinction between of Iranís pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, Iraqís pursuit and North Koreaís pursuit of weapons of mass destruction?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Iran is a democracy. Iraq and North Korea are not. The difference between Iraq and North Korea, it seems to me, are quite obvious. On the question of Iraq you have someone who has in recent years, in the last decade, invaded two of his neighbors and sacrificed about a million of his youth in those wars. He has subjugated his own people. He has tortured his people. Thatís not Rich Armitage saying it, itís Amnesty International reports that record this. He has used weapons of mass destruction against his enemies in the Iran war, and heís used it against his own people. Finally, he has an affection for terrorism, and from our point of view and I think generally shared with many in the international community, an unrequited thirst for more weapons. The question of Korea is quite different. Since 1987, in the explosion of the Korean airliner, as far as I know, North Korea has not been involved in terrorism. The whole peninsula of Korea has been relatively stable. Stability for about 50 years. We have two of our close allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan, involved in varying degrees of "normalization" talks with North Korea, and two other great powers, Russia and China, which share exactly the same view as the United States on the need to get rid of weapons of mass destruction and denuclearize the peninsula of Korea. Thatís a pretty good basis on which to work diplomatically in Korea, and with UN Security Council Resolutions backed up by the possibility of the use of force in Iraq.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you about the reports that VX gas may have found its way out of Iraq into al Qaeda affiliatesí hands, and that Iran is building two big nuclear plants?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I saw a press report about nerve gas making its way out of Iraq but Iím unclear about some aspects of it. There are areas in Iraq not controlled by the government of Iraq in which we know al Qaeda is active. In fact, entities associated with al Qaeda have recently come into armed conflict with Kurdish units in that very area. It may be that the VX came from there. But Iíve been traveling and Iím not up to speed on that. Regarding so-called secret facilities in Iran, I think they will remain secret.
QUESTION: You said youíre very concerned about the situation in North Korea. What action will the United States be taking as a result of that?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: The recent decision?
QUESTION: In terms of them reactivating their venue for their program?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: As I say, weíll have to take a look and see what they actually do vice what they say. The first piece of business, to echo what Prime Minster Koizumi said today, was to remain coolheaded and talk with friends and allies and get a general accepted course of action on this matter. There are many whose equities are affected, not just the United States. I think itís something that weíll take our time and do deliberately.
Thank you all very much.
Released on December 13, 2002