Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

E&OE

25 July 2008

Joint Press Conference with Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State, Perth

COMPERE: The world's most powerful woman, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has just addressed the media in Perth as part of her visit to Western Australia. Here is some of what she had to say.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We've covered the full range of issues in our more than two and a half hour bilateral on the plane. But I do have to reveal a little secret: we did spend a little bit of the time with Stephen trying to explain cricket to me, and I trying to explain American football to him. As long as there are no tests, I think that sooner or later I'd like to try out my knowledge and I hope he'll have a chance to try out his knowledge.

In short, Stephen thank you for the invitation to this really beautiful place, this very special part of Australia. It reminds me of the western United States, the kind of openness and optimism that is here. Being here on the grounds of this wonderful park, having visited the wonderful memorial, it's a great [break in transmission] the opportunity to celebrate what is an extraordinary relationship between the United States and Australia, and our friendship as well.

SMITH: Well, thanks very much Madam Secretary. For the record I should say that the bilateral lasted for three hours; one hour on regional and international matters, an hour and a quarter on cricket, and three quarters of an hour on American football.

RICE: [Laughs]

SMITH: Now, in accordance with the usual customs, the first question to the United States media.

QUESTION: Thank you. Matt Leigh(*) from AP.

RICE: Right.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, the issue of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay is a source of worldwide anger and frustration. You may have noticed here there were some small protests, and your next stop in Auckland there's a group of students who were offered a $5000 reward for anyone who can successfully perform a citizen's arrest on you for violations of the Geneva Convention.

I'm wondering, A, if you're aware of this and what you make of it. And more importantly, B, how are the plans going to close down Guantanamo? Can you commit, that the Administration commit, to closing it down by the time President Bush leaves office?

RICE: Well, first of all, protest is a part of democratic society and student protests are particularly a long honoured tradition in democratic society. And I can only say that the United States has done everything that it can to - in this war on terror to live up to our international and our national laws and obligations. Guantanamo is a detention centre that, as the President has said, we would very much like to close.

The problem of course is that there are dangerous people there who cannot be returned and put among innocent populations. We are hopeful that there will be the beginnings of the bringing to justice the military tribunals for those people who are there. But let's not forget that a lot of innocent people have died at the hands of terrorists. And we must do everything that we can within our obligations legally and in terms of our treaty obligations to prevent that from ever happening again. And the President is dedicated to that.

We have tried to return people from Guantanamo to their home states, if at all possible, but there are some people that we've not been able to do that with. And the one thing that we cannot do is to release people into a population that is innocent and would be unable to defend itself.

SMITH: Okay. First question from the Australian side.

QUESTION: Dr Rice, this morning a student asked you if you were keen on becoming president. Have you ruled it out completely?

RICE: Yes [laughs]. Look, I'm sure it's a great job - president - but I really… I know what I want to do with my life and I know the great honour that I've had of serving the United States as its chief diplomat. But the United States is an extraordinary country. It's a country that I love very, very deeply. It's a country that I've been proud to represent. It's a country that sometimes has to take difficult decisions, and we're not always popular in taking those decisions. But I hope that people know that we've always taken them in hopes of defending freedom, defending values, and making the world a better place.

And in representing my country, I've been proud to be able to say that our country has come an awfully long way. You know, I was born into segregated Birmingham Alabama. There was actually no guarantee that my father could vote when I was born in 1954 in Alabama. And that I stand here as Secretary of State and, as I said to Stephen, in 12 years we will not have had a white male Secretary of State, so there's something very special about the United States.

And so it's a great country to represent abroad. And when I've done that, and I've got a sprint ahead of me still until I'm done, but when I am, I look forward to returning to my home, I look forward to returning to working on the many issues that concern me. But especially, one of the reasons Stephen and I have become, I think, good friends is he has a great and abiding interest in education, as do I.

And since I believe very strongly that great multiethnic societies like the United States or Australia, great multiethnic democracies, have to be certain to provide educational opportunities for their people, have to be certain that it is true that it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you're going, that circumstances of birth are not in fact a hindrance to who you will be.

That's what I'd like to do, is to go back and make sure that I do my part to secure that again for America.

And so I have enormous admiration for people who do run for office, like my friend here. And we certainly put them through their paces, as an electorate should. But I know where I'm going and who I am on that score.

SMITH: Second question from United States media.

QUESTION: Sue Pleming from Reuters. Australia has pulled its combat forces out of Iraq. Secretary Rice, would you like to see more of those forces moved to Afghanistan where there's a great need for more forces? And to both of you, do you think that Pakistan is doing a good enough job in the border areas?

RICE: First of all, let me just say how much we appreciate the contribution of Australia's forces and we were able, because of Australia's openness and cooperation I think, to achieve the withdrawal of Australian forces from Iraq that had been a part of the promise of the incoming Australian Government. And we were able to do it in a way that provided safety and consistency for the forces remaining on the ground.

And now in Afghanistan we're fighting together in some difficult places like Oruzgan province where many of the Australian forces are, and the contribution is tremendously appreciated. Look, we all have to look at what we can do and I know that on the reconstruction and civil side, which is after all a part of the counterterrorism, counterinsurgency struggle as well, Australia is doing even more.

But what we need to do relates to the second part of your question, is to look hard at how the Taliban is regrouping, why the Taliban is fighting in the way that they are now. They generally are taken on and defeated pretty handily when they come in actual military formations but they certainly are - there's an up-tick in the terrorism not just against forces but against he Afghan people. And in that regard everybody needs to do more, but Pakistan does need to do more.

That border; we understand that it's difficult, we understand that the north-west frontier area is difficult, but militants cannot be allowed to organise there and to plan there and to engage across the border. And so, yes, more needs to be done.

SMITH: Thank you. Just to add to those remarks. Firstly, in the case of Iraq, as you know, that was an election commitment and we implemented that. That was done with the full cooperation of the Untied States Administration, also with the Iraqi Government and also other partners in Iraq, in particular the British. And as a logistical exercise, that was a very, very successful exercise.

And I was in Iraq recently, and in the course of being in Iraq I announced a substantial increase in respect of Australia's contribution on the civil reconstruction side.

In addition to securing peace and stability in troubled areas, we also have to give those nations the chance to grow their capacity. And so our increased assistance in Iraq goes to building state institutions, increasing capacity.

So far as Afghanistan is concerned, we have nearly 1000 troops in Afghanistan, at 1060-odd. We are the largest non-NATO contributor. We are in Oruzgan province in the south where the fighting is often at its most difficult and its most dangerous. And this morning we had the pleasure of meeting people who had been in that theatre.

We make a substantial contribution. We've made it clear that we don't see any increase in the combat or military or defence capability that we have in Afghanistan.

But as well, in recent times, I've also announced when I was in Afghanistan a further substantial Australian contribution for nation building and capacity building.

We are very grateful for the role that our forces play in Afghanistan. And at Swanbourne Barracks I said to some of the regiment there that they do really need to understand that the work they do in difficult and dangerous circumstances is very genuinely appreciated by our friends and allies.

I also made the point that, and in the vernacular, that the work that they do in conjunction with our friends and allies, whether it's combat or a peacekeeping role, helps give foreign ministers of Australia street cred when they walk in the door. That is unambiguously the case.

And it's a very important role that they play for international peace and security but an important role they play on behalf of their nation.

When it comes to Pakistan, I have made the point, as I did to the Pakistan representatives in Singapore in the course of the ASEAN regional forum, that we are very concerned about the Afghanistan Pakistan border area. We don't believe that that can be regarded simply as a bilateral matter between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is an issue which has regional and international community consequences.

There is no doubt that the current international hotbed of terrorism is in that area; is in the Pakistan border area in Afghanistan. One thing we know about modern terrorism, it is mobile and moves very quickly, either north and west to Europe or south and east to Asia. And Australia has already been on the receiving end and adverse consequences of terrorist activity in South-East Asia.

So we have raised the border issue with the Pakistan Government, as we have with our ally the United States and other friends in Afghanistan, in particular the British.

But this is an area where both the regional community and the international community needs to do more. We do need to engage Pakistan more in a dialogue and we do need, in my view, to be rendering assistance to Pakistan at a time which is very, very difficult for them.

Second question, Australian media.

QUESTION: Dr Rice, Western Australia is a state with significant uranium reserves. Has your agreement or talks with India and Australia's role and what part we could play, come up in your talks? And do you think there's a role for us there?

CONDOLEEZA RICE: Well, we have talked about the US India civil nuclear deal. I'll ask Stephen to speak to the Australian position but the - we've made very clear that we believe that this is an agreement that serves the interests of the US Indian strategic relationship. It serves the interests of India in terms of its needs for energy that is not hydrocarbons based. They want a civil nuclear program and this is a way for them to have one. And, frankly, it serves the interests of the non-proliferation regime. India is not a party to the NPT, but the regime, the broader regime is one in which even non-NPT states need to take certain obligations in terms of proliferation, and India has a good record in terms of proliferation.

And the fact that Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the IAEA, has been supportive of this deal, I think, supports the notion that this is good for the international non-proliferation regime.

I know that there will be consultations coming up soon in the IAEA board of governors and then in the nuclear suppliers group.

Australia, of course, will participate in those and I don't expect that Australia has yet to make a decision; that's not what's being asked. But I know that I've had - I found a very open hearing and listener as we've put forward the case for this deal, and as the Indians have as well.

SMITH: Well, there are two separate issues. First is the export of Australian uranium. The Government has a longstanding party policy position which is we don't export uranium to a country that's not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And I've made that clear to Indian officials and the Indian Government pretty much from day one of the new Australian Government's term in office.

The India US nuclear civil arrangement is a separate matter and a matter indeed that - my memory is, Secretary, that when we first met in Washington we discussed it there, as we have regularly, and as I have with Indian officials and Minister Mukherjee recently, and as the Prime Minister did, Prime Minister Rudd with Prime Minister Singh in the margins of the G8 meeting recently.

Our position on the US India civil nuclear arrangement is that if and when the arrangement emerged from effectively the Indian parliament to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency, then we would put our mind to the detail of the agreement. The vote of confidence in the Indian Prime Minister and Indian Government in the course of this week now makes it almost certain that the arrangement will proceed to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors.

The fact that our policy position prevents us from exporting uranium to India does not prevent us from joining a consensus to support the civil nuclear deal. And I've indicated both to the Indian Minister of State, who was in Singapore, and to the Secretary of State that we are now looking in detail at the arrangement and agreement, looking at the views of other players in the nuclear suppliers group and the Atomic Energy Agency itself.

And we're doing that with a positive and constructive frame of mind. We don't proceed on the basis that our policy position on the export of uranium prohibits or prevents us from supporting that arrangement, and so we're looking at it in a positive and constructive manner. And we're also, as I've made clear consistently to the United States and India, when we do that assessment, looking very carefully at the strategic importance that both the United States and India place on this arrangement.

I think it's third strike you're out over here.

RICE: [Laughs] Lach?

QUESTION: I'm Lachlan Carmichael from AFP news agency.

Madame Secretary, you've been telling us about progress made privately between the Israelis and Palestinians toward a draft peace agreement. Next week there will be the trilateral in Washington. Will you be able finally to give some public details of the progress they've been making, and will you be applying pressure to prompt both sides into that deal you really want before you leave office…

RICE: Well…

QUESTION: … before President George Bush leaves office?

RICE: Well, the first answer is no, we won't be providing details of what goes on in the trilateral.

They are - the Israelis and the Palestinians have their first serious peace process in seven years, and they are discussing very sensitive and difficult issues.

I would remind that the most effective negotiations they probably ever had were Oslo and no-one even knew they were negotiating. And they - so I think they're really rather wise to negotiate seriously, to work with each other, to see if they can overcome differences without having a daily accounting of how well they're doing or how badly or who's up or who's down. And that's what they want to avoid, and I'm going to stick scrupulously to the same view.

I think the United States can help them to see where there are points of convergence, and that's what I generally do in the trilaterals. I think I can also, because I stay in very close contact with all of my colleagues in the international community, including Australia, I think I can represent to them some of the things that the international community might be willing to do to help them in getting to a deal and making a deal work.

Now, there is still time for them to, in accordance with Annapolis, reach agreement by the end of the year and we'll keep working toward that goal. But the most important thing right now is to take note of how very seriously they are negotiating, to note that there was not even last year a peace process at this time, and to recognise that since this president came into office, the notion of two states living side by side in peace and security has just become kind of common wisdom. We all say it.

Well in fact, in 2001, that was not the position either of the Likud Government of Ariel Sharon or of much of the international community.

And so the president has, in stating clearly American policy for a two-state solution and helping to get through the extraordinarily difficult years of 2001, 2002, 2003, the Second Intifada, in helping to get through the withdrawal from Gaza, the Lebanon war and then launching Annapolis, I think has laid a firm foundation on which these two parties can finally end their conflict.

The work now is to keep pressing ahead, but pressing ahead in a way that preserves the workability of this process, and that really means preserving the confidentiality of their discussions.

SMITH: Okay. Last one. We've had the two opening bowlers from the Australian side, now it's first change.

RICE: [Laughs]

QUESTION: Dr Rice, if we just lighten up as we wrap up here. President Bush coming to the end of his term. Over the years satirists have had a bit of fun with him; in Australia, he may be seen as a larrikin. What's he like as a boss?

RICE: President Bush, what's he like as a boss?

QUESTION: Yeah.

RICE: Well, he is somebody who really proceeds from a kind of deep sense of principle and he sometimes finds things outrageous. He finds - I mean, he's outraged by certain things.

And I'll tell you something that he finds very difficult to deal with. He finds it difficult when he sees people who live in tyranny.

I know that that's considered somewhat old fashioned to believe that no man, woman or child should have to live in tyranny, but as somebody who himself is free, he's offended by the continuance of dictatorships in this world.

Now, I think that has united us and united this administration. I know that there's sometimes a misreading of that to suggest that we're somehow naïve that on our watch all dictatorships were going to go away, we were going to end tyranny for all time. That's not the point, because everyone understands that the ending of tyranny is a long, long, long term process that takes generations and generations. But if somebody doesn't speak up for the principle that it's simply wrong for men and women to live in the absence of freedom, then it's never going to happen.

And, you know, I'm a firm believer that it's all right to be a little bit on the side of too optimistic and too idealistic rather than too cynical and too pessimistic about human beings and what they can achieve, because if you look back over history, whether it was the founding of the United States of America itself, which probably never should've come into being given the great struggles against the British Empire, or our own Civil War which almost did end the American experiment, to the collapse of a country with 30,000 nuclear weapons and five million men under arms peacefully without a shot, one night the hammer and sickle came down, the tri-colour went up, did we think any of that possible? Well, those things that seemed impossible now seem, in retrospect, inevitable.

So I think the President is someone who, if he has to err, he'll err on the side of idealism and optimism. And, you know, when you have to get up and go to work every day post-9/11, where, for us quite frankly every day is September 12, it's an awfully good thing to work for somebody and for the President of the United States who really is, at heart, an idealist and an optimist.

Thank you.

[Ends]

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