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Australia Backs U.S. on Iraq

Aired February 10, 2003 - 11:23   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We take you now live to Washington. You see there Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is about to brief the press there. He is joined by a dignitary there. That is Australia's Prime Minister John Howard.
JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: ... relationship between Australia and the United States has many facets...

The relationship between Australia and the United States has many facets. One of those has been our constant cooperation in military conflicts over the years. We value very much that association.

Australians, particularly the older generation, remember the vital help rendered to us during World War II by the United States. And together, we have fought on many battlefields and done many things in pursuit of the values that we share.

We face, as close friends, the threat around the world of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue states, and the frightening possibility that those same weapons could fall into the hands of international terrorists. That is a new dimension of instability replacing some of the older threats. And that's the motivation for what Australia has been doing in partnership with the United States concerning Iraq.

We hope that military conflict can be avoided. It can only be avoided if there's (inaudible) of it being avoided. That can only happen if you get the entire world through the United Nations saying the one thing to Iraq, "The game is up; you must disarm."

If that were to happen and we were to see the Arab states energized to say the same thing, we may be able to avoid a conflict. And that is why we believe, not a matter of international law, but as a matter of accumulating international political pressure and diplomatic pressure that a further resolution is desirable.

I've had a very good discussion with the secretary about the predeployment. The basis of ours is understood by the United States. There's yet to be a final decision taken if military conflict becomes the ultimate option, and that is one that will be dealt with in accordance with the constitutional processes of Australia.

We have, nonetheless, along with the United Kingdom, predeployed forces. Australia does not believe that all of the heavy lifting on something like this should be done by the United States and the United Kingdom alone, albeit our contribution is a much smaller one, commensurate to the different size of our country. But you are sending a new and sharper signal when you predeploy, and that's what we have done, and we've been very willing to do that in cooperation with our American and British friends. And as always, the Australian military is very happy to work in close harmony and cooperation with the United States military. There's been a long association and a very positive one.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, France, Germany and Belgium today vetoed NATO protection for Turkey, saying that that would simply make it easier for the United States to invade Iraq.

QUESTION: Could NATO begin disintegrating over decisions like this?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think not. NATO's been around a long time. And I suspect it'll be around a long time ahead.

I think that technically what they did was not veto, but I think the phrase is, they broke silence on what otherwise would have been a planning process for NATO. And I have not heard precisely what they said as to what their reasons were. But NATO very likely will end up engaged in that subject through a different route.

It's my understanding that the next step very likely would be Turkey coming back in, as is the right of any member-nation, and having the subject engaged again through a different mechanism of NATO.

It's unfortunate that they are in stark disagreement with the rest of their NATO allies. There's three countries -- there are 19 countries in NATO -- so it's 16 to 3. I think it's a mistake. And what we have to do, for the United States, is make sure that that planning does go forward, preferably within NATO, but if not bilaterally or multi-bilaterals. And we are already going about that task.

As you'll recall, what all that was asked for was that planning begin for AWACS and for chemical and biological detection units and for Patriot capability, all of which are defensive. And it seems to me that NATO will end up doing that. And the time that's lost will be made up because we'll start to do it bilaterally.

And in the event that the three stand out at the end, my guess is that the other 16 nations of NATO would form a coalition to provide that kind of assistance.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) for such protection delay a possible attack on Iraq were President Bush to make such a decision?

RUMSFELD: Well, no, because the planning is going to go forward outside of NATO, if necessary; the plan to see that Turkey's circumstance is as it should be. It's an important ally in NATO, it's a moderate Muslim state, and it seems to me that those three countries taking that position prevents NATO from fulfilling its obligation to a NATO ally. And I'm sure that NATO will find a way to do it eventually.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you just have come back from Germany, and you've spoken over the weekend to so many of the United States' allies. What is your real sense of what is going on in Europe at the moment? If Germany and France, two of our most traditional allies, plus Belgium, are now taking this view, aside from the fact the U.S. is going to go forward, as you say, what does it really say to you about U.S. relations with Germany? I mean, what do you take from all of this? What does all of this really mean?

RUMSFELD: Well, there have been differences within NATO my entire lifetime, adult lifetime. I could list six or eight of them. The natural gas pipeline. The Skybold (ph) back in the Kennedy and McNamara era. I mean, there's always been something, and that's the nature of it. When you've got that many countries doing (ph) together, everyone's not always going to agree on everything.

And what's the meaning of it? I guess time will tell. But at the moment what is means is that three European countries are isolated from the rest of the NATO alliance; 16 countries, two North American and 14 in Europe, don't agree with them, with those three countries. That's what it means.

QUESTION: And how soon will the U.S. begin now fulfilling what you've just say, deploying equipment perhaps on a bilateral basis to Turkey?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. We were hopeful until the last minute that those three countries would not do what they've now done. The work is starting, and it will proceed at a good clip and in good time.

Questions for the prime minister?

QUESTION: Mr. Howard, in your discussions this morning in the Pentagon, have you received any further information as regards Australia's position?

QUESTION: And do you feel that Australia's commitment in the early predeployment along with the U.K. is making Australia a greater target for terrorist attack?

HOWARD: Well, any western country and its people are targets of terrorist attacks.

We have made a predeployment of the type that I've outlined for the reasons that I've outlined.

And the discussions this morning didn't bear on, in any way, the likelihood of Australia being a greater or lesser target. I mean, I think it's important to remember that the most frequently quoted reason from the terrorist side for Australia being an object of hostility from international terrorists -- which, in fact, the deployment in East Timor, something that had the overwhelming support of the Australian public and something of which most Australians feel reflectively quite proud that we'd done the right thing -- but this question of whether or not you are a target, it is a way of life that is despised by international terrorists.

I haven't seen the program, but I understand that ABC's (ph) run a program in Australia, "Four Corners," I think it is, that dwells on this issue. And I saw some material in a paper, and it talks about the -- what is it? -- the Army of the Cross, a generic reference to a whole lot of nations in France and Germany, as well as Britain and the United States and Australia are named in the same breath, which sort of does give the light of the idea that you're singled out according to the attitude you're taking on Iraq or the attitude you're taking on difference issues, because you've got in that clutch of countries, you've got some that are taking a different attitude than the attitude being taken by Australia.

HOWARD: I mean, nobody is immune from the threat of terrorism in the modern world, and we have to understand that, and we have to go on doing things that address threats to the world. If anybody imagines you're going to reduce terrorism by turning your back on problems such as Iraq, my view is you will increase the likelihood of terrorism and you increase the potential damage that further terrorist attacks will do. That's my view.

RUMSFELD: Another question for the prime minister?

QUESTION: Prime Minister, did you directly discuss with Mr. Rumsfeld the terms of Australia's pre-deployment and explicitly make it clear that it is a pre-deployment only and that any decision to go to war would be a further decision?

HOWARD: Oh, yes, that's understood, and it was discussed. It's a pre-deployment. I mean, it's been made quite clear this morning and it's been understood by the administration that if circumstances (inaudible) that a decision is made and a request comes to Australia, that request then has to be responded to by a meeting of the Australian cabinet.

But, you know, that's been our position all along, and I hope that we can get a U.N. resolution. In the end, whatever comes out of that process, as I said in parliament, countries will have to make choices, and so will people inside countries have to make choices, political parties inside countries will have to make choices. And we will meet as a cabinet, if we get a request, we'll meet speedily and we'll take a decision.

QUESTION: Sir, would Australia support military action against Iraq if there is no U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force?

HOWARD: Well, I think you will get something out of the United Nations. You may not get what I'd call the black-or-white resolution. You could get a gray resolution, and I think if you get a gray resolution you've then got to make a judgment as to what you do. I'm not going to hypothesize about that judgment at this stage. There's nothing achieved by that.

I mean, the value of another resolution -- and the stronger the better -- will be the additional diplomatic heat it puts on Iraq. HOWARD: And I go back to what I said a moment ago. If there is a faint hope of this thing being solved without military force, that faint hope is to be found in the whole world saying the same thing and saying it very loudly to Iraq, and most particularly the Arab states saying, "Mate, the game is up."

RUMSFELD: I think we'll leave this as the last question.

I was musing earlier about public opinion polls and, you know, there's several ways you can cast questions to get answers. And one way is to say, "Will this country agree to join the United States without a U.N. resolution and join the United States in a unilateral action or would you prefer a second resolution?"

And of course, the other way is to say, "Would you prefer to have Iraq keep its weapons of mass destruction or would you prefer to join a large coalition of the willing with or without a resolution?" And that gets a quite different response.

And the reality is, I keep reading the word "unilateral," which I find kind of strange. The United States has already heard from a large number of countries that would participate in a coalition of the willing. And the United States, along with other countries. is hopeful that force will not have to be used, that there will be a better way to solve it.

But the point that the prime minister is making is enormously important, that the purposefulness and the signal that's being sent to Iraq is, in fact, why Iraq has, in the first instance, allowed inspectors in. Absent that flow of forces, absent the indication that the international community is determined to see that country disarmed, that country would not be cooperating any better than they were a year ago.

And finally, with respect to the second resolution, why don't we all start calling it the 18th resolution, which is, in fact, what it is, if there is to be one.

Thank you very much.

HOWARD: Thank you.

HARRIS: And with that, the brief comments have been wrapped up there by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, with his guest there, Prime Minister John Howard, who is going to be meeting on later today with President Bush. Mr. Bush is now in Nashville, Tennessee. He's going to be speaking there any minute now. We expect to have coverage of that as well today.

But we did hear much discussion here in this brief press conference about the rift today that appeared among NATO members with Belgium, France and Germany saying they would not authorize the beginning of planning to put measures in place now to begin protection of Turkey in case of war with Iraq.

Overall, we heard Defense Secretary Rumsfeld say that NATO will not disintegrate because of this rift. He says that they will engage in a planning, but they'll have to perhaps take place by way of a different mechanism, perhaps bilateral arraignments.

But it is clear there was a 16-3 split in NATO now, 16 nations on one side of the table and Belgium, France and Germany on the other now. And he's also asked about the meaning of this rift. He said that time will tell, and he did downplay any real significance here. He said there have been differences among members in the past.

For John Howard of Australia, he was asked whether or not Australia would support the U.S. if there is no resolution coming from the U.N. to authorize military activity in Iraq. And Mr. Howard did not exactly say yes. He did say that he had no doubt something will come out of the U.N. in the form of a resolution. Perhaps it will be gray, but there will be something coming from the U.N. in his belief.

We'll have much more coverage of this event and the meaning of all of this throughout the day on the network. Stay with us.


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