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Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations 1999 Media Conference Transcript

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The following is a transcript of the joint media conference with Ministers Downer and Moore, and secretaries Albright and Cohen

3 November 1999, 4:15pm

Secretary Albright: Good afternoon and g'day. Secretary Cohen and I are pleased to welcome Foreign Minister Downer and Defence Minister Moore to Washington for this important annual event. The four of us have just finished a very full and productive six hours of consultations. We covered a lot of important ground including our ongoing efforts to assist East Timor in its transition to independence. we explored ways to support Indonesia's new government as it pursues national reconciliation and a more deeply rooted democracy. We reviewed pressing regional concerns from south Asia and North Korean to the Taiwan strait and the spratlys we reiterated our support for non proliferation and arms control including the comprehensive test ban treaty and improved enforcement of the biological weapons convention. And in preparation for the WTO Ministerial in Seattle we outlined our trade goals, emphasising a common desire to eliminate agricultural export subsidies.

These are complex issues that directly affect the security and prosperity of both our countries. It would be reasonable to expect some disagreements but today there weren't many. The truth is that there may be no country on the planet with whom we have a better working relationship than Australia.

Our alliance is a reminder that when it comes to diplomacy, values matter far more than proximity. On the map we could hardly be further apart but as defenders of political and economic freedom and advocates of the rule of law we are inseparable. There's quite a bit of sand on Australia's beaches but Australians do not hide their heads in it. In fact Australia stood tall whenever it has counted throughout this tumultuous decade, from the Gulf War to Cambodia to Kosovo and now East Timor. INTERFET's performance over the past seven weeks has been outstanding. Under Australia's leadership, sixteen nations, including the United States have come together quickly to restore order and assist with humanitarian relief and as a result we can hope for an early hand off from INTERFET to the United Nations. Of course we have taken only the first steps in a longer process. It will take time and resources for the people of East Timor to build democratic institutions and a market economy and they start with little except a group of strong leaders and an indominable will. In recent months the United States and its allies, including Australia, have had to perform a difficult diplomatic balancing act.

We supported a peaceful transition to a new status reflecting the outcome of a referendum in East Timor while encouraging democratic change in Indonesia. The violence that followed East Timor's choice for independence was tragic and avoidable. The Indonesian armed forces were complicit in the destruction and have ongoing responsibility now to prevent attacks emanating from West Timor. Meanwhile the Indonesian people deserve great credit for the free and fair election of a new president and vice president whose leadership they are counting on to reform the economy and corruption and resolve regional disputes. America, like Australia, is a member of the Asia pacific community. we have a strong interest in helping the peacekeeping and United Nations in East Timor to succeed and in assessing the efforts of the Indonesian people to strengthen civil society. With allies such as Australia taking the lead, we will not bear the largest burden but we have a responsibility to do our part to assist. This is yet another reason why I am calling on congress to back our foreign policy interest with resources and to pay our un bills.

In closing I want to thank Foreign Minister Downer, Defence Minister Moore, the Australian military and the Australian people for the terrific job they have been doing and we're proud and grateful to have you as allies, Foreign Minister Downer.

Minister Downer: Well thank you very much Secretary and Secretary Cohen as well. First can I begin by thanking our United States hosts for their arrangements and for looking after us today at the AUSMIN meeting. Today's AUSMIN continues the warm and open dialogue which I think it’s fair to say has characterized our exchanges over the last few AUSMINs since the AUSMIN in Sydney in 1996.

The depth and frankness of our discussions reflect both sides mutual confidence and commitment to the alliance and our shared perceptions of many of the key issues in the international agenda. We've reaffirmed that substantive US engagement in the Asia pacific remains a fundamental cornerstone to regional security and development and we believe this is increasingly recognized by other regional partners. Obviously as the Secretary of State said, developments in Indonesia and East Timor were focal points in our discussions. We agreed that the election of a new government in Indonesia has been a very positive development and we both congratulate the government and people of Indonesia on managing very well the difficult challenges of the new political process. we look to the rebuilding of our relationship with Indonesia over the coming months.

Australia and the United States have cooperated closely on the establishment and the operation of INTERFET, the international force in East Timor and we're both committed to seeing a successful and effective transition from INTERFET to the United Nations transitional authority in East Timor. Australia appreciates enormously the contribution which the United States has made which we see as demonstrating the alliance at work. We look forward to continuing this cooperation with and the engagement of the United States in East Timor.

East Timor though hasn't completely dominated our dialogue over the day.

We've shared assessments of developments in the regional environment, including the korean peninsula, china and japan and we've also discussed the evolving dynamics of the asean regional forum. We share a desire for the advancement of the non proliferation and disarmament agendas.

Australian remains concerned by the potential impact of the united states senate rejection of the comprehensive test ban treaty and we do welcome the administration's assurances of their commitment to the treaty's underlying elements and the intent to pursue the wider agendas in these fields.

Can I just say in conclusion that over lunch we also discussed multi-lateral and bi- lateral trade issues and this was of course focused in particular in the lead-up to the world trade organisation meeting in Seattle at the end of this month. Australia and the United States share agreement on the need to launch a substantive new round of trade liberalization. On bilateral trade issues we re-iterated the well known positions that Australia has on questions such as the lamb question and there are of course a range of other trade issues that we briefly discussed.

So let me just say that we particularly appreciate the warmth of the welcome that Secretary Albright and Secretary Cohen have extended to us. we have built up a very close relationship now over quite some years and we find the relationship and the alliance itself to be in very good shape, in very good working order.

Secretary Cohen: Thank you Secretary Albright and Minister Downer and Minister Moore. I have a very lengthy statement that I am prepared to deliver but in view of the fact that I agreed with both the very complete statements offered by Secretary Albright and Minister Downer, let me say I associate myself with their remarks and just make a couple of quick points.

This past September, Minister Moore and I met in Cairns and then travelled together to Darwin to meet the troops who were participating in the East Timor peace-keeping mission. And I must say, during that visit I was very very impressed with, not only the quality of the troops that were there but especially the quality of the Australian leadership. And this mission, the INTERFET mission, is succeeding in large part because Australia has built and has led an impressive peace-keeping team. And as all of you know we have had an outstanding relationship with Australia over the years, they have been with us side by side. They are with us today in virtually every region that we have called upon them to help us with and we are standing side by side with them in this peace-keeping mission as well.

The AUSMIN Ministerials we hold we find extraordinarily productive and as Minister Downer has said we have one of the finest relationships that one could ask for. As Secretary Albright has indicated the distances perhaps quite long, but the relationship is extremely close and we are very grateful for that.

Minister Moore: Secretary Albright , Secretary Cohen, Alexander, can I just join with Alexander in thanking you for hosting today's event. I'm the new boy. This is my first AUSMIN meeting. So with great expectations I came to Washington to meet with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. What did I expect and what did I get? Well I got a lot more than I expected -- a very open and frank discussion in every respect. I valued very much the views and opinions put forward at the meeting by both secretaries. I think on reflection on it all, it's hard to imagine many differences. The degree of cooperation and the degree of support that we got in the field in East Timor was echoed around the table today and I certainly want to thank Secretary Cohen in particular for the way in which he came to Australia, saw what was going on, visited the other asean countries and followed up with the degree of support that he has. It's been quite outstanding. As for the surroundings and meeting place, Sydney harbour wasn't bad but this is really quite fantastic. I'm really pleased to be here.

Journalist: ...The report commissioned by Speaker Hastert released today says that North Korea in terms of weapons of mass destruction is a far more threatening country than it was five years ago when the agreed framework was signed. do you have any response to that?

Albright: Well I haven't had a chance to read this report but I do believe that the work we have all done in cooperation with former Secretary of Defense Perry in fact shows that we are very conscious of the threat from North Korea and have been working diligently with the south Koreans and the Japanese in order to be able to mitigate it. We have managed to get a moratorium on missile tests and we believe that the framework agreement is a very good one in terms of freezing the nuclear weapons grade material

Journalist: Madam Secretary. Craig McMurtrie, ABC, Australia. I'd like to ask you what is the us position on leadership of the un peacekeeping mission that's to replace the multinational force in East Timor --specifically, on whether Australia should lead it?

Albright: Well let me first say that -- as Secretary Cohen said -- we are filled with admiration in the way that Australia has lead the multinational force and are very grateful for the work that has been done. It is obviously up to the Secretary-General to decide who should lead it and I think that I would like to simply say that Australia has done a magnificent job and hope that they will be able to fulfil their responsibilities, along with the rest of us as we move into the next phase.

Journalist: Question I think mainly for Mr Moore. One of the problems in East Timor has obviously been that very few of the refugees from West Timor have so far agreed to go home. How do the Australians -- as the leaders in the peacekeeping force -- what's your strategy for persuading them to go home?

Moore: Well I was in Dili on Friday, to see the conditions on the ground. I have to say that when you look around the devastation in East Timor, it's quite clear that the campaign that was run there after the ballot would lead to some of the citizens of East Timor certainly getting out of Dili and heading for the hills. I have to also say that when you fly over the hills I don't see great congregations of people and so the first thing we need to do there is to demonstrate, not only the fact that the United Nations have secured pretty reasonable control of East Timor: all the major roads in East Timor now are open for the NGOs and traffic, and a very high degree of security is there. But I think to get everybody home at the present moment that needs to be demonstrated probably to the people that are not there, to those that are in the hills to come out and for those that are in West Timor, to be given every indication that it's safe to return home. That also requires the authorities -- the TNI in particular -- to ensure these people are granted, are allowed a free and peaceful passage back to their homeland.

Downer: Can I just very briefly add to that by saying in West Timor it's obviously beyond the operation of INTERFET but in West Timor we are particularly concerned about the refugees. It is a particularly high priority for the Australian government to see that the refugees are able to return safely to East Timor -- those who wish to return to East Timor. We have had very good assurances from the Indonesian government that those who wish to return will be able to return. But so far only about 35,000 have gone back to East Timor. That's probably in the vicinity of 15-20 percent of the refugees who are in West Timor. So there are still many, many more there in refugee camps and we're concerned about their status in those camps and their capacity to get back when they want to.

Journalist: Cameron Forbes, The Australian. A question both for Secretary Albright and for Mr Downer: isn't there a conflict between the WTO aim of ending agricultural subsidies and what now seems to be the annual practice in America of massive multi-billion dollar farm rescue packages?

Downer: Well our position is that these are the issues that we want on the agenda in the WTO. That's why the round needs to be a comprehensive round. you can imagine from the perspective of a country like Australia. These multi-million, multi-billion dollar packages by the United States and the European Union are at the end of the day a significant disruption to global farm trade. that's important to us. So we would like to see in the WTO ultimately an agreement to phase down and eliminate this type of support. But I should say on the WTO that our position and the United States position is very close. We've had excellent cooperation so far in the lead-up to the Seattle meeting. we hope that the European Union and Japan and a number of other countries will take a very constructive approach in Seattle towards the overall process of trade liberalisation.

Albright: We do believe that there are great opportunities in this WTO round. A lot of work has gone into it already. I think that we see it as a comprehensive round and want to make sure that it deals with as many issues as possible. but I do think as Mr Downer said that not everyone is in agreement on how to deal with the agricultural aspects of it. But we are all looking forward to this round and in terms of our bilateral relations, we had fish for lunch.

ENDS

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