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Asia Foreign Policy Update Forum Address - John McCarthy

H. E. Mr. John McCarthy, Australian Ambassador to Japan

H. E. Mr. John McCarthy, Australian Ambassador to Japan

QUESTION: I was wondering if you would, Mr McCarthy, give us your impressions of the very latest developments in the North Korean affair or crises and what is being revealed in the last couple of days of the substance of the talks in Beijing and what happens next or where they go to from here as we wait for the US response to what has been put on the table.

If I could have a second part to that question, what role directly will Japan play in subsequent negotiations and what will it have to offer to those negotiations or what can you tell us about what might be on offer to help resolve the crisis with North Korea?

AMBASSADOR: Much as I am tempted to I am actually not trying to duck the first question. I am a little bit out of touch because I have been travelling and I just haven't seen messages coming in. I am only really talking on the basis of press reports, but this is how I would see it. Obviously what happened in Beijing was a very interesting development but you could say that there are two broad views, and this isn't just in Tokyo, this is globally. The first broad view is that the North Koreans are essentially trying to negotiate for a number of things, including security guarantees, economic aid, with the capital which they have acquired through their interest in nuclear affairs, let me put it that way. They are trying to get the best out of it and then they are happy to go down to zero – total de-nuclearisation – that's one view.

The second view is that really they are playing for time; they have decided to go nuclear. We just don't know. Anybody who can be certain on this – they are a lot better informed than I am. That's all I can say. But those are broadly the two views. I think the point I have to make here though – I don't think there is any real doubt – certainly there isn't any doubt in Tokyo and I don't think there's any doubt in Australia – is that the negotiations track is the crucial one to explore. Then we will see what the North Koreans are really about.

What you will hear in Japan constantly is that although they are worried, they have doubts – all these different views about what North Koreans are up to – there is absolutely no question about the importance of a negotiations process.

Now, what will Japan have to offer? As you know the three main parties in talks so far, in this recent set of talks – are China, US and North Korea. The other two crucial parties that really have to come into the game are South Korea and Japan. Japan clearly has huge security interests and those interests have to be taken into account and their views have to be registered. Their view is they want – very similar to Americans – they want total de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and you can understand why.

What will they have to offer? At the end of the day they will have a lot to offer. They have, like the United States, a major economy which can assist North Korea, but they are not opening up the gates of aid just yet because there are two issues that have to be sorted out. One is the security issue, which is crucial to them, but secondly there is this very very difficult domestic issue of the abductees, which is very important in Japan. I guess there is a way to go yet, but clearly the Japanese have got a role, see themselves as having a role, and also have a great deal to contribute both in terms of ideas and at the end of the day ballast to hold the agreement together, if one emerges.

THE CHAIR: Once again, our warm thanks to John for a very frank and informative address and also for handling questions in the same way. I am sure we could go on for much longer but we do try and finish sharply at 2 o'clock. So, I have to draw a line there. Thank you for coming and thanks to you once again, John.