So the President, at Sharm-el Sheik in Aqaba about six weeks ago and the Secretary of State, have got this bit firmly in their teeth and they’re not going to quit. As I say, we’ve got a difficult problem presented to us yesterday. The Secretary of State has been on the phone, I know, with leaders of both the Palestinian Authority and Israel. We’ll continue to work the program. This is not something that we - to follow our football vernacular - lends itself to a “Hail Mary” pass. This is going to be a game of inches, unfortunately. But we’ve got to make sure that those inches are in a positive direction and not the reverse.
CHAIR: Rich has a very busy schedule. I know there are many, many questions. We have time for one more (crosstalk).
RICHARD ARMITAGE: We’ll have two questions, okay.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr Armitage, it’s interesting to hear you eventually mention Al Qaeda. Stopping Al Qaeda getting hold of weapons of mass destruction was one of the reasons that we were told we went to war in Iraq. It doesn’t seem to have stopped them at least from claiming to have done all kinds of things with those weapons since the war, so to speak, ended. Is it really Al Qaeda that we should be worried about here? I’ve noticed that one of your generals just in the last couple of days has said that Ansar al-Islam is in fact the main problem inside Iraq nowadays, and people with a long memory will remember this, this was the group that was said to have killed the Australian journalist Paul Moran early in the war. They’ve also been said by several of our ministers to be affiliated in different ways, some say with the Shi’ites, some say with the Sunni, some say with Osama bin Laden, some say - in fact the Attorney General said that they have connections with Saddam Hussein. It’s a very shady operation this. We need to have more information about this, and if this is the group that is now running opposition to the American presence in Iraq, when are we going to be told the truth about it?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: You’re terribly misinformed. I believe our public would say we are telling you the truth and I’ll give you a definitive answer. Ansar al-Islam is affiliated with Al Qaeda. Ansar al-Islam lived, before the war, in the area close to the Iranian border, inside the territory of Iraq not controlled by Saddam Hussein. There is, I think, information available both to your intelligence and to ours that would indicate that at one point in time that Saddam Hussein had a very loose affiliation with Ansar al-Islam. The question of Saddam Hussein’s affiliation with mainstream Al Qaeda is a much more murky one and one that we’ve been approaching very judiciously.
You say I didn’t mention Al Qaeda to the end. We live with Al Qaeda, as you do, daily. It’s part of the daily fabric of our lives and most recently evidenced in Jakarta. It is something that we get up in the morning and think about and we go to bed at night and think about it. I am sorry that it doesn’t appear to be a phenomenon that can be turned on and off like a light switch. The President of the United States has made it very clear that this is a long term war. This is not a short term war and that it’s going to outlive his presidency and he has prepared the American public for it. I’ll leave it to Australian leaders obviously to speak about their preparations for the Australian public, but where you may be having some trouble coming to grips with it, I think people in my nation are much more comfortable that they’ve got the picture on Al Qaeda and they don’t like what they see and they’re hunkering down for the long run.
CHAIR: This has to be the last question.
QUESTION: Mr Armitage, Peter Harvey from the Nine Network. Could I get you to comment on some things that were said earlier this week by Dennis Richardson, the head of ASIO. He says that a catastrophic attack involving WMD is a certainty and only a matter of time. And specifically on Australia he says the fact that we, Australia, were early and actively engaged in the War on Terrorism does contribute to us being a target.
RICHARD ARMITAGE: On the latter point I disagree. I think you’re a target because you’re a free, open democratic society who feels that everyone should have a fair go, including women. You don’t espouse any particular religions, everyone is free to choose their own. I think every facet of Australian life is a threat to what Al Qaeda stands for. Regarding the first question of whether a WMD strike is absolutely a foregone conclusion, I think many of your citizens and mine spend their days and nights trying to make that not happen. The difficulty is we’ve got to be right 100 percent of the time and a terrorist only has to be right once. You can’t count those things that didn’t happen. We can sit around in our private councils and high-five each other about the things we think we’ve disrupted, but if they don’t happen they don’t count. They’re not seen in the general public, or perhaps by Channel Nine, as a victory. For me they’re victories.
Thank you all very much.