Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

E&OE

28 January 2008

Joint Press Conference with US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice

Subjects: US alliance, Iran, Palestine, North Korea, Afghanistan

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Good afternoon. I'm delighted to welcome my colleague, Minister Smith. Stephen, it's great to have you here in Washington, the new Foreign Minister of Australia. We have had an extensive discussion, as befitting any two countries with the deep and longstanding ties that Australia and the United States enjoy. Indeed, we've talked about our joint efforts to secure the Pacific as a place of prosperity and peace and the forward movement of democracy. We've talked about our global challenges and we had an extensive discussion of that.

And we've also had a chance to talk about other issues like climate change, where we are cooperating together, of course, in Bali and in the Major Economies Meetings that will take place. And so it has really been a very good first meeting, and I look very much forward to meetings in the future.

Thank you very much for being here today.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thank you very much, Madame Secretary. Firstly, can I say how much I appreciate the warm and generous greeting and hospitality that I've received. We've had a very productive and useful conversation. Can I start by saying that the meeting underlined the fundamental importance of the alliance between Australia and the United States. This is an alliance which has served both nations well for over half a century, forged in the context of World War II and, I'm always proud to say, forged by Labor Prime Minister John Curtin at a time of Australia's greatest peril.

But the alliance with the United States forms the fundamental basis of our strategic and security and defence basis and the indispensable nature of the alliance was underlined by our meeting today. As the Secretary has said, we discussed a range of issues relevant to the Asia-Pacific region, North Asia, and the globe, and these were very useful, so far as I'm concerned.

Could I say that from a selfish, personal point of view, as a person who comes from Perth and Western Australia, one of the most enjoyable parts of the meeting was inviting the Secretary to come to visit Perth and Western Australia, which I'm happy to announce she gratefully accepted, so I'm very pleased to say that not only will formal conversations continue in the usual way, but at some stage in the course of this year, we'll see Secretary Rice in Perth and Western Australia. Thank you.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I very much look forward to that and I see smiles on the faces of my travelling press corps, so look forward to it.

Staff announces that questions will be taken.

REPORTER: Yes, Madame Secretary, on Iran, would you agree that the United States just couldn't get the kind of tough sanctions resolution at the Security Council that you had hoped for and that without international agreement on the need for economic sanctions against Tehran, your carrot-and-stick gambit with Iran is effectively over? And with less than a year left in office for yourself, what chances do you give your whole program to remake, or to give an offer to remake, the United States' relationship with Iran?

And for the Foreign Minister, do you - is your government still considering unilateral economic sanctions against Iran along the lines of those the United States announced last fall?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: You going to stop there, Anne?

REPORTER: Yeah. (Laughter.)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Okay. All right, good. Let me start with the question of the resolution. We were very pleased that the six parties were able to agree on the textual elements of a Security Council resolution on Iran, the third such resolution. It has now gone to the Security Council for consultation with the broader Security Council. It is no secret that a resolution of that kind is, of course, a negotiated product. And the important thing is that it both deepens and - deepens the sanctions against Iran and it opens the possibility of new directions like, for instance, the cargo inspections.

And so I think it's a very good resolution, but most importantly, it is a resolution that shows and will show Iran that it continues to be isolated from the international community, that it has no friends when it comes to its desires to pursue technologies that could lead to a nuclear weapon.

And yes, there will continue to be activity outside the Security Council as well. The United States, as you know, has sanctioned several Iranian entities and that has made it difficult for many others to deal with Iran because the reputational and investment risk of dealing with an Iran that is under, now, two Chapter 7 resolutions and likely to be a third, those reputational and investment risks are quite grave. It's as my colleague Hank Paulson said; when you are doing business with Iran, you don't really know who you're doing business with, and so, good to beware.

As to whether or not we can improve the state of U.S.-Iranian relations, that's something that I would put to Iran. As I've said several times, the question isn't why won't we talk to Tehran, the question is does Tehran want to talk to the United States? We've made very clear that the suspension of their enrichment and reprocessing activities, which allows them -- those activities allow them to perfect the technologies that can produce the fissile materials that are needed for a bomb; that we would, as the international community has, be very pleased to engage in negotiations and discussions on anything that they might wish to bring to the table, but that that suspension needs to take place.

And as to the success of this achievement, I think that - or of the strategy, I think it continues to be a significant achievement that the world is united around Chapter 7 resolutions that say to the Iranians: Drop your ambitions for the technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapons program.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Australia very much supports the efforts of the United States within the Security Council to apply maximum pressure by way of Security Council resolution on Iran. So I have indicated to the Secretary that we support those efforts. And whatever support our mission at the United Nations can do give that, of course, goes without saying. Secondly, progress is only made in this area if there is significant international pressure on Iran. And that international pressure can occur through the United Nations and more generally within the international community and the new Australian Government has an open mind and will consider any other suggestions that are made to bring pressure to bear on Iran in this area.

REPORTER: My question is to Minister Smith. How would you differentiate your approach to the Australian relationship with the U.S. from that of your predecessor? And specifically, what's been the reaction to Australia's decision to withdraw combat troops from Iraq?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the basis and the nature of the alliance between Australia and the United States transcends governments and administrations.

It's supported by the spectrum of politics in Australia and in the United States so administrations come and go, governments come and go, but the fundamental, underlying, indispensable nature of the Australia-U.S. alliance continues and that's the importance that it has to Australia in strategic terms, in security terms, in defence terms.

We came to office in November last year with our longstanding commitment that we would withdraw our troops from Iraq, our combat troops from Iraq by the middle of this year. And I advised the Secretary of State that when the current rotation from the Overwatch Battle Group is completed in the course of the first half of this year, those troops will be withdrawn. That's being done in consultation, not just with the United States, but also with the United Kingdom and it's being done in a way to minimize, to absolutely minimize any disruption or difficulty.

At the same time, I've also made it clear to the Secretary that Australia stands ready to consider, as we are currently considering, what other avenues of support there may well be to support the effort in Iraq. This, of course, goes to aid matters, it goes to building Iraq capacity in governance issues, in infrastructure, in civilian activities. So we are sticking absolutely to the election commitment that we took to the Australian people. But I don't for one moment think that that in any way has any capacity to disturb either the good working relationship between the current Administration and the new Australian Government, nor to be anything of any significance in terms of a longstanding, enduring alliance, which will last, in my view for many, many years to come.

REPORTER: Madame Secretary, do you support President Abbas' forces taking control of Gaza's breached border with Egypt as you indicated last week on your trip to Europe? And should the EU monitors return to try and calm the situation. And then secondly, what do you think Sung Kim hopes to achieve on his visit to Pyongyang this week?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Hi, Sue. Two unrelated questions, all right. On the matter of Gaza, first of all, let me say that I had a conversation last night with Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit of Egypt. We understand the complexity of that situation and want very much to see a resolution that would return order to that border. We are in discussions with all the parties about how to do that. I think that there are two very important elements that I would underscore. The first is that Hamas should of course do everything that it can to do what it has not yet done, which is to use whatever capacity it has to stop the rocket attacks against Israel, because that is one of the - that is the essential problem out of Gaza.

Secondly, we have been very clear that there should be no humanitarian cost to the innocent people of Gaza who simply have the bad fortune to be in Gaza after Hamas launched its illegal coup against the legitimate institutions of the Palestinian Authority.

We do support, as the Quartet did in its statement several weeks ago, the concept of a Palestinian Authority presence to begin to introduce some order to that border. There would be many details that would have to be worked out, and I can't comment on any specific detail because this is obviously a very complex - would be a very complex operation in itself. But we've said that in concept it should be supported and that parties should look to see if that might be one way to handle the situation.

As to North Korea, well, Sung Kim is on his way there. As you know, we are in the second phase of the effort to denuclearise the North - the Korean Peninsula. That is the disablement phase. The disablement needs to continue and, in fact, has gone relatively well. But there is the matter of the accurate and complete declaration that North Korea needs to file so that there is confidence going forward into the next phase, which would be then the actual dismantlement and denuclearisation phase.

I am hopeful that the North is now ready to have serious discussions about that, and we will see. But the completion of that declaration and the completion of the disablement phase, of course, is necessary in order for further progress to be made on all of the obligations. And the United States stands ready to fully discharge its obligations in the second phase, should North Korea discharge its obligations. And I know that that is true also about the other members of the six-party talks.

REPORTER: Hello, Madame Secretary. Actually, I'm also from Perth, I can endorse the idea that you will have a good time there. (Laughter.)

Secretary Rice, there's reports today that Afghanistan President Karzai is blocking the appointment of super envoy Paddy Ashdown. I'm wondering if the U.S. supports that move.

And to Minister Smith, the Rudd government appears to be showing a more muscular stance on Afghanistan, perhaps, than the Howard government. And I'm wondering whether or not you're concerned about a splintering, you feel like, of the Western coalition given these reports about Paddy Ashdown today.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, what is needed, and this was the idea that the international community has been pursuing through a U.N. special representative as well as with the Afghan Government, is that there needs to be a single figure who can bring together and coordinate the multiple, multiple efforts of the international community to support Afghanistan's reconstruction.

Counterinsurgency work is very difficult because you have to clear the area of the terrorists or of the enemy, and then you have to be able to deliver goods and services for the people of the area, or the area will fall back into conflict. And I think it's fair to say that the international community has not yet found a way to coordinate its effort in a way that is effective and efficient and can fully support the Afghan Government in reconstruction.

Paddy Ashdown is a superb public servant and he has done a superb job in everything that he has done and would have done a superb job, I think, in this activity. He has decided to withdraw; he's given his own reasons for that. And I have to say that I think the United States is sorry that this couldn't be worked out because we need strong leadership in the international community, and the international community, it seems to me, is ready to accept strong leadership so that we can better support the Afghan Government.

But we will continue to pursue, along with our allies, along with U.N. Secretary General Ban and with NATO Secretary de Hoop Scheffer, a way to better coordinate our international efforts so that the very significant security efforts that are being made - and I might say, at great peril and great cost to a number of countries that are fighting in very tough places - so that those efforts can be bolstered with appropriate efforts at reconstruction.

STEPHEN SMITH: Just before answering that question, you just made the point; I've also made the point to the Secretary of State that Australia very much supports United States efforts so far as North Korea is concerned.

When it comes to Afghanistan, we are, as a government, particularly concerned about Afghanistan and the adverse consequences for Afghanistan so far as what's occurred recently in Pakistan. And as a consequence, we believe that there is a need for significant international community interest in what is occurring in Afghanistan. Australia's commitment in Afghanistan is a significant combat or military one, but we are also, as we speak, giving consideration to not just military or security contribution but also aid, civilian training, infrastructure, governance, the capacity-building contributions that are required.

And it's very, very important from Australia's perspective, and I think from the international community's perspective, very important that that sort of approach is reflected by a significant international contribution. I see and Australia sees the forthcoming NATO meeting as being very important in that context, and I've indicated to the Secretary that Australia is very supportive of the efforts being made in Afghanistan, not just from a security point of view but also ensuring that those efforts extend to the array of areas and issues that are important to help build and rebuild a nation-state.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Thank you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much.

Ends

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