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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2001 > March

Press Availability with Foreign Minister Downer of Australia

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Press Availability with Alexander Downer, M.P., Minister of Foreign Affairs of Australia
Washington, DC
March 22, 2001

SECRETARY POWELL: It is a great pleasure for me to have hosted today the Foreign Minister of Australia, Mr. Alexander Downer. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Australian federation and the 50th anniversary of our treaty alliance, a treaty alliance that has served both nations in the cause of peace in that part of the world so very, very well.

Australia is our oldest and closest ally in the Asia Pacific region. Our armed forces have fought on the same side in every war since World War I. The ties between our nations remain close and very, very extensive. It was in this spirit of longstanding US-Australian friendship that I met today with the Foreign Minister.

The US and Australia remain committed to free trade around the world, and in that context we discussed Australia's desire to pursue a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States. We also reaffirmed our common interest in regional stability and prosperity, our respect for human rights and our determination to respond to the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We had occasion to discuss my recent meeting with the Chinese Vice Premier, who was here yesterday and again today will be meeting with President Bush this afternoon.

Finally, the Foreign Minister and I agreed to look for opportunities in the future to enhance our close cooperative relationship. Australia is one of our very, very best friends in the world, and I am very pleased to introduce the Foreign Minister of Australia, The Honorable Alexander Downer.

FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: I would like to thank the Secretary of State for his hospitality here today and say it's been a great pleasure for me to be in Washington to meet with the Secretary of State, and also with the US Special Trade Representative and the Vice President and others during my stay in Washington. This is the first opportunity our government has had at the ministerial level to meet with the new Administration, and I have been delighted with the progress of the discussions that I've had here.

As with the United States, we place enormous value on our alliance relationship, and this is the 50th anniversary of the ANSUS* alliance and we look forward to celebrating that alliance during the course of this year. The Prime Minister will be visiting Washington during the year, and that will be in particular an opportunity to say more about the 50th anniversary celebrations.

On trade issues, we very much welcome the Bush Administration's commitment to free trade. It's a very important development for the international community. We very much hope that it will be possible for a new WTO round of trade liberalization negotiations to get under way during the course of this year. We have also had, as Secretary Powell has pointed out, quite substantial discussions about the proposal for a free trade agreement between Australia and the United States, and we look forward to taking those discussions forward as time goes on.

We have also had an opportunity to talk about a lot of the Asia Pacific regional issues, about Indonesia, about China, about Korea, and so on. And I must say I am very impressed with the great interest that the new Administration is showing in the Asia Pacific region. The role of the United States in the region is absolutely vital to the region's stability and prosperity, and we continue to encourage with great enthusiasm the active engagement of the United States in the region.

Finally, we have agreed to continue to cooperate very closely on the issue of climate change matters as the international community now addresses those in the light of a new Administration here in Washington. I know that Australia and the United States will work very closely, very carefully, and very successfully together on those difficult issues.

Q: Headline news on Russia. Could you tell us if you have spoken to the Russian Foreign Minister and perhaps tell us whether he threatened a similar expulsion? You know, for so long everybody has known that scores of diplomats have been assigned here who are really not diplomats but intelligence operatives. Do you have any plan or any strategy for changing the system besides throwing out these 45 fellows?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we are constantly reviewing that presence in the United States. And as you know, as a result of the Hanssen case and as a result of our reviewing their presence in the country, I met with the Russian Ambassador yesterday and informed him of our decision to expel four Russian intelligence officers who were directly implicated in the Hanssen case.

And in addition, in response specifically to your question, I made clear to the Ambassador the actions the Russian Government needs to take to address our longstanding concern about the level of their intelligence presence in the United States.

I have had a long conversation this morning with my Russian colleague, Foreign Minister Ivanov. We discussed this in some detail. And I said to him that with this action that we took yesterday that I took with the Russian Ambassador, we consider this matter closed. We have important interests in maintaining cooperative and productive relations with Russia, and we intend to continue working to advance those interests.

Q: I wonder if you might expand on comments you made in your confirmation hearings about the importance of Australia, when you spoke about the importance of Australia from a US perspective. There has been a suggestion that in some sense Australia is America's deputy sheriff in the region. And I'd like to get Australia's Foreign Minister to respond as well, please.

SECRETARY POWELL: I would never characterize Australia in that way. Australia has been a full partner with the United States in that region for as long as I can remember, and throughout my entire career in public service and in the military.

And in my confirmation hearing I tried to make the point that as the United States, as a Pacific nation, looks to the west and begins to deal with the challenges that we find there, whether it's in North Korea or in China or in Vietnam or elsewhere, we begin with the strong relations we have in the region -- with Japan, with South Korea -- and no relation is stronger than that with which we have with Australia. And I always like to make that point so no one ever mistakes it.

I think it has been very impressive to watch how the Australian Government and the Australian armed forces responded to the situation in East Timor, a situation that was very close to them. And they have done a terrific job out there. But that doesn't make them deputy sheriff to anybody; it makes them an important player in the region that is living up to the responsibilities and the challenges of the region.

FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: Well, I would only add to that by saying that as an ally of the United States and as a 50-year-old ally of the United States, we naturally cooperate with each other and discuss with each other a whole range of Asia Pacific issues. There is nothing new about that. It's always been thus.

And certainly, I mean, during the course of this visit we've been discussing the whole range of Asia Pacific issues that our two countries confront in that part of the world. I think that's the most natural thing you would expect between two friends and allies. But we are an independent country and we act in an independent way, and we protect and we promote Australian interests first and foremost. It has never been the policy of our government, has never been the policy of an Australian government, to be the deputy to any other country in the last 100 years since Australia became the proud and independent nation that it is.

Q: Mr. Secretary, following up on Barry's question, or part of Barry's question, did Foreign Minister Ivanov say anything about expelling Americans from Moscow? Maybe I missed that in your answer, but in case I didn't I want to follow up.

SECRETARY POWELL: No, you didn't miss it. I didn't say anything.

Q: Did he say anything?

SECRETARY POWELL: We talked about a lot of things, but I would rather not characterize what they might or might not do. Let's wait and see what they do or do not do.

Q: Secretary Powell, you mentioned the discussions on the proposed free trade agreement. What's your view of that? Do you think it's a good idea, and what would you like to see happen there?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I think it's a good idea, and of course it takes quite a while to put such an agreement together and then to present it to our respective legislatures. And so we're looking forward to the ideas associated with that agreement. And when the Prime Minister visits later this year, I am sure it will be one of the top items on the agenda. And we are very open to that. And I know that, as the Foreign Minister has mentioned, we talked about earlier the specific ideas that they have in mind and the positive reception he has received from Mr. Zoellick.

Q: Mr. Powell, when you spoke with the Russian Ambassador, did you ask for a certain number of other Russian diplomats to leave this country, and is there a time limit for them to leave? And will the Russians be able to replace them with new individuals as soon as they wish?

SECRETARY POWELL: When I spoke to the Russian Ambassador, I made it clear to him that we needed to do something about the level of presence, and we have indicated to him actions that should be taken to deal with that presence. Those actions were provided to the Russians earlier today. I did not get into any specifics with him, just in a general sense.

Q: I just want to follow up. Are there others in the Soviet -- in the Russian Embassy that you consider to be involved in spying?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't hold that kind of information. Other agencies of the United States Government pursue such information. I do not have it, nor did I have it with me yesterday when I spoke to the Russian Ambassador.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Australia was one of the first and still one of the few nations to endorse the missile defense system. Can you explain the importance that you see Australia will be playing in terms of the US plan and the importance to the Asian region? And the Pine Gap installation -- what role you see, if any, that having for the missile defense system.

SECRETARY POWELL: I am very pleased that the Australian Government sees that there is a threat of missiles that affects not just the United States but perhaps even more than the United States, nations around the world, and one way to deal with that threat is with the development of missile defenses.

I told the Foreign Minister that as the new Administration develops its concept and its programs we would be in very close consultation with the Australian Government as to what we have in mind, but at this time I have no plans to announce and no programs to describe that deal with any of the facilities in Australia. In due course, as our concepts and programs become clearer, we will share those concepts and programs with the Australian Government.

Q: Apologies for ping-ponging among subjects here. But Secretary Powell, as you know, there is a Chinese-born American citizen, Gao Zhan, who has been detained for the last six weeks in China. It is our understanding that you did raise this in your discussions last night with the Vice Premier.

Were you satisfied with his response that the Chinese would look into it? And how concerned are you that the Chinese Government has been detaining a number of American scholars of Chinese origin?

And secondly, could I get a reaction please to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's announcement that he would like to run again? Does the US endorse that decision?

Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: Anything else, Andrea? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY POWELL: On the first one, in our meetings last evening, I raised with the Vice Premier the whole issue of human rights and the concerns we have with respect to human rights issues within China. I then told him I would present, through my staff directly to his staff, our concerns about specific cases, and that was one of the specific cases.

The lady is a Chinese citizen who is a resident in the United States and on her way to United States citizenship with her husband. So we did express our concern, and I am waiting for an answer from the Chinese Government better than the answer we have received so far. We have raised this previously.

We think it is particularly outrageous that the young boy, the son, was held away from his parents, away from family members, for an extended period of time, and we were not notified in the timely manner that is required and expected. So we are expressing our displeasure about all of this to the Chinese Government and expecting additional answers.

With respect to Mr. Annan, I have just heard that he has made it official that he will be seeking a second term. We think he has done an excellent job. He has been a very, very effective Secretary General, and in due course we will announce our specific position with respect to supporting him or voting for him.

Thank you very much.

[end]



Released on March 22, 2001

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