Keynote Address - Asia Foreign Policy Update Luncheon - Richard L. Armitage
Mr. Richard L. Armitage - Deputy Secretary of State, United States of America
Mr. Drummond, thanks so much for your kindness. And, ladies and gentlemen, thanks to you for in a very real way, as far as I’m concerned, allowing me to come home. I have been coming to Australia I think every year since 1967 at least once, and it means a lot to me to be able to be here and be amongst you, as we say where I grew up in Georgia, and I’m grateful.
Let me also express my admiration and respects to the member for Brand, Mr Kim Beazley, my friend of almost 20 years now, Andrew Peacock and Bob Cotton, Sir Robert Cotton, fantastic ambassadors to Washington, and of course Lord Mayor Lucy Turnbull. I’m delighted to be in your company as well.
Now, Mr Drummond, you were very kind in your introduction. It was quite laudatory, almost laudatory enough to pass for a eulogy. I want to assure you, sir, and ladies and gentlemen, that rumours of my demise and for that matter Secretary Powell’s demise are greatly exaggerated. In fact, we’ve got an eight letter word to describe those rumours, and I’ll leave it to your imagination. People are counting on their fingers. The word is nonsense, of course, and I knew you’d - allow me also to express some words of gratitude for the opportunity to be here with you all today, and I thank Dick Woolcott for his kind invitation.
Now, Dick of course is well known in Washington circles in which I now travel. He’s been described as, let me get this right, adventurous, irreverent, scornful of authority, with a reckless and a self-destructive streak, and that’s just in his autobiography. By all accounts, however, and I can guarantee this, he’s a wise and a gracious interlocutor on international affairs in general and Australia’s place in the world in particular. And I’ve long enjoyed the benefit of Dick’s views, whether it’s through the Australian-American leadership dialogue or during your distinguished service with the Australian government. Now, I say I’ve benefited from the views. I’ve quite often disagreed with those views, but we’ve enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.
As I’ve said, I’m delighted to be back in Australia. Confident, clever, sunburnt, but whatever label you call this country is a compelling place. Increasingly, as far as I’m concerned, a critical player on the world stage. Even if some Australians perhaps are uncomfortable seeing themselves in that particular light.
Yesterday I had a chat with Alexander Downer and I noted that Minister Downer had recently returned from the Solomon Islands, where he laid out the Australian vision for the future of that nation, Australia’s vision developed in concert with a likeminded coalition of neighbours, which included New Zealand and Fiji and Tonga and Papua New Guinea. It’s clearly based on respect for the people of the Solomons and the destiny that they want to see for themselves. But it is also a vision that is absolutely unapologetic about Australian leadership, and that makes sense when we consider the environment in which Australia is acting in this instance.
It is the nexus formed by the moral compulsion of human misery. The all too apparent post-October 12 need to prevent chaos and lawlessness, and the very feasibility of a resolution. Indeed the backdrop in the Solomons is similar when you look at the steps that Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States and the United States and other nations are now taking in another troubled place, Liberia.
The self-confidence of the Solomons action is an important signal of the Australia that exists today, but also of the reality that is emerging across Asia. Australia, like Japan, like China, like Korea and many of the ASEAN states, has interests to protect and advance. It requires a focus on regional challenges and regional opportunities. But today that regional role is often indivisible from a larger international profile. Australia, like other Asian nations, is a global power with a global role, and more to the point, with global responsibilities.
In that sense, US policy in the Asia Pacific region is not just a question of who supports our interests in the war on terrorism, it is a question of who is willing to take action in support of their own interests across a range of concerns. And so US policy in this region is a constructive vision, one that sees a stabilising Asian engagement in great global flux of our time.
This is a vision that extends to discreet partnership, it extends to longtime friends, and it most certainly extends to treaty allies. And, of course, Australia is a solid ally, but also a partner and a good mate of the United States. Asian in geography, Western by tradition, but global in scope. Australia shares a deep common character with my country. Of course it’s based on the ties of history and culture, political values and demography. I believe, however, it is the twin ties of prospective and action that most bind us together today. This is as true today as it was throughout the past century, when Americans and Australians so often stood together in freedom’s defence.
I believe that we’re going to break new ground in seizing the positive links between our nations with a free trade agreement, which President Bush has ordered us to do our absolute utmost to complete by the end of the year. Now, this agreement has the potential to deliver significant benefits to both our countries, including the areas of property rights and agriculture, as well as benefits to the wider Asia Pacific region, through the new trade and investment it will generate. Indeed, we would hope to use this agreement as well as the agreement we have with Singapore as a model of free trade arrangements in the region, and of course we’re going to continue to work closely to promote multilateral trade liberalisation through the World Trade Organisation.
For China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, I believe that their behaviour as states with global economic reach has perhaps now outpaced their behaviour as states with global political reach. For all the Asian players, however, it is fair to say that this international system in which your fortunes are now so deeply vested is yours to protect and defend. Challenges such as terrorism, HIV/AIDS, trafficking in narcotics, trafficking in persons, and yes, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, these are challenges for us all. And this is the reality which Australia has long recognised.
Now, there is no question that there will not be 100 percent overlap in interests between any collection of partners, of friends, or even allies, and that is quite understandable. We all want to do what is right in the world, but we all have to do right by our people, and that will always involve some selectivity.
When it comes to terrorism, however, after September 11 and October 12, I think most of the international community saw a clear, self-interest in cooperation. After all, the terrorists espouse an ideology of destruction, and they aren’t particular about just whom they kill. It’s not just Americans and Australians who have been slaughtered by al Qaeda and affiliates, but hundreds of Filipinos, Kenyans, Moroccans, Saudis and Tanzanians. Citizens of more than 90 nations died in the World Trade Center alone.
And, again, as we saw so horribly in downtown Jakarta last week, far too many Indonesians have lost their lives at the hands of extremists. But Indonesians have much more to lose in this battle, including their sense of security, their sense of confidence in the future. This is a time when the world community needs to help restore Indonesia’s faith in itself. Certainly by cooperating in counterterrorism and law enforcement efforts, but also by engaging across the board, in particular by helping this country along the road to economic and to political reform, and in so doing, to deny the terrorists the safe haven they often seek in misfortune and in turmoil. Without a doubt, it will be Australian leadership which will be essential in this regard.
It’s a theme, isn’t it-- Australian leadership. Indeed, Australian leadership, both in terms of military contributions and reconstruction aid have been important to reversing the fortunes of Afghanistan and rescuing what was little more than a burnt out shell of a state from the thugs and the terrorists who held it hostage. Indeed, some 90 nations have offered direct contributions to military operations in Afghanistan. As we’ve recently read, NATO in fact has just taken command of the International Stability Force in Afghanistan.
But a cross-section of Asian nations are also engaged. Japan has contributed military assets, as has the Republic of Korea, even though that nation is of course facing severe security concerns of her own at home. Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines have also offered military assistance, and China, for that matter, has not only provided reconstruction aid in Afghanistan, but has also proven to be a valuable partner in counterterrorism operations.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Kabul and beyond in Afghanistan, and I can tell you that it will take that kind of global commitment to overcome the decades of war and deprivation. But I also saw something remarkable when I was there. Everywhere you looked, even in the most devastated sections of West Kabul, there are signs of industry and signs of normal life, market stalls, tea stands, children playing soccer, women-- some in burkas, some not-- socialising in the streets.
Indeed, I think the resilience of the human infrastructure will continue to inspire us all as we work to build the physical infrastructure, which is going to take a long time and sustained interest from the United States and many other nations. And to that end, the United States has just announced new assistance of more than $1 billion for Afghanistan, in addition to leveraging contributions of other countries. And it is our hope that these funds will help support the new provincial reconstruction teams, the localised deployments that will be spreading out across the country to meet security and assistance needs in the main population centres. It’s also our intention to open even more schools and rebuild more roads and more clinics and support more local police and armed forces among our priorities.
Of course, the human infrastructure of Iraq is proving somewhat less resilient at this point. And I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at that. Rogue regime is a very catchy label, but I don’t think any of us had an idea what it really meant in practice. Murder, thievery, rape, brutality, torment: these were the actual tools of governance and statecraft in the regime of Saddam Hussein, for 35 years. Thirty-five years, three times longer than Adolf Hitler ruled Germany. The distortion of Iraqi society has been generational and profound, and fear in the heart of all Iraqis is deeply embedded and it’s going to take some time to recover and to rebuild, the impatient eye of the TV camera notwithstanding.
I think it is fair to say that the majority of Iraqis today want to press forward towards a better future, but there are those hardcore Baathist elements, the foreign fighters who have joined them who have a great deal of blood on their hands. I suppose it is understandable that they are doing anything they can to sabotage the process, to sabotage the progress. That this would be at the expense of the Iraqi people should come as no surprise. Mass graves we’re finding across that country offer an extraordinarily powerful witness to their lethal lack of concern for the lives of Iraqis.
But even with all the troubling news that continues to seep out of Baghdad and out of Iraq, there are encouraging changes on the ground, and Australia has done much to make that happen. Certainly with the professionalism of your military forces, but also through the ongoing service of numerous civilians, including those who are providing key oversight of Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture. More than 45 nations have offered cooperation or support for military operations, including troops from more than a dozen nations who fought alongside the Americans, the Australians and the British.
Today more than 30 nations are providing troops and assets for stabilisation operations, and most significantly to me of all when you look at this region, Japan is looking into contributing assets to that effort. Thirty-six nations have pledged or contributed reconstruction assistance, a number that counts some $60 million from Australia and more than $100 million from Japan. Now, I know that’s a lot of numbers to throw at you. But they add up to a situation in Iraq that is, in fact, stabilising. Of course, there’s a difference yet to travel. There’s no question the people of Iraq are anxious to have their country back for themselves and to see it a better place. Indeed, that is what every nation involved in this coalition wants to see.
To date we have avoided any humanitarian crisis or large movements or flows of refugees. There is enough to eat, thanks to significant shipments of aid. And all of the country’s hospitals are now open. Twenty-two universities in Baghdad were not only opened but completed their school year. The lights are going on across Iraq. And we intend not only to bring power generation and water quality back to pre-war levels as soon as possible, but to repair and to upgrade those systems to the point that they are much better and much more reliable than they have been in decades.
And while the new Iraqi governing council is an important development, representative government really has to grow at the local level. And so for us who are involved in this in a day-to-day way, it’s very encouraging that all the major cities in Iraq now have city councils. Eighty-five percent of the towns in Iraq have town councils. Iraqi police are beginning to patrol Iraqi streets, and training has started for a new Iraqi army.
Indeed, if we look back to historical precedent, these developments are happening in a fraction of the time it took to reach comparable developments in Germany or Japan after the Second World War. And, of course, those two nations had the benefit of homogeneity in their society. They were not the polyglot that makes up Iraq. So while I won’t stand here and pretend to you that the situation is perfect. There are obvious immediate security challenges in some parts of the country and reconstruction shortfalls in other parts of the country. But with this sort of cooperation of nations, there is every reason to believe that Iraq will emerge from its season in hell and that the lives of all Iraqis will improve dramatically.
Now, I don’t want to leave this podium without addressing something that has aroused a great deal of concern here and in my country, and that is the fact that we have not yet found enough evidence of Saddam Hussein’s programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. We will. I have absolute confidence about that. Indeed, the fact that it has taken us this long to find the evidence is a chilling reminder that these programs are far too easy to move, and I believe far too easy to hide.
Consider, for example, that UNSCOM was only able to confirm the existence of a biological warfare program that Saddam Hussein claimed not to have after years of inspections, because a high level defector walked in and gave them the evidence. Dr David Kay was part of the original UN inspection team, and today he is back in Iraq working for us, continuing the search. He’s making solid progress in finding the evidence of Saddam Hussein’s WMD program. But he’s also finding that deception and concealment were an extensive and embedded part of the program perfected over the course of two decades. It’s going to take some time to find not just the weapons, but the equipment and the people and the materials that made up this program.
President Bush has made it crystal clear that we don’t intend to stay in Iraq any longer than is necessary, but I will make it crystal clear to you today that we are not going to leave until we find and destroy Iraq’s capability to produce biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. One thing is very clear about Iraq, however, and that is that the world cannot afford to keep coming back to this point. For 12 years the international community could find no answer to a number of difficult challenges. How do we deal with a sovereign state which is led by a criminal, one who has little regard for his people, let alone for international law and international order? And in particular, most particularly, how do we deal with the determination of such a regime to acquire weapons of mass destruction? For us, just as for Australia, war is never going to be the preferred answer. But in the absence of any other solution, it will always have to be a consideration.
In the present environment, the international community needs to come up with a workable, muscular diplomatic answer to such unanswered challenges, and Asian states in this regard have an important role to play to come up with these answers. In no part is that clearer than in the question of North Korea. Again, as our Australian friends know all too well, we’re talking about a repressive regime that is supporting itself in the main through criminal activities, trade in weapons and drugs most particularly.
This alone has a destabilising effect across the region, and we have to take into consideration the more recent North Korean nuclear threats. The United States has tried a variety of solutions to this situation, including some creative bilateral mechanisms, everything short of military action, but thus far to no avail. It is only now, through the concerted effort of nations, and of Asian nations in particular, that we are beginning to see some progress. And indeed, I think we can say that anything that can be accomplished in the region can and will be accomplished more effectively with the active participation of the People’s Republic of China, and movement towards a peaceful resolution with North Korea is a powerful case in point.
Of course, we’ve also made it clear to the North Koreans that we plan to consult with our allies and our partners regardless of who is actually sitting at the table in the multilateral setting, and so we will continue to look to Australia for guidance in this matter. At the same time, we will also continue to explore other effective means for dealing with the proliferation challenges from North Korea, Iran, or any other country who chooses to export or collect materials in defiance of the system of international controls. And this is going to have to include novel means for dealing with such transfers, such as the new Proliferation Security Initiative.
That 11 nation-- thus far-- initiative is looking at what nations can do to strengthen the interdiction of trade and prohibited weapons and materials. Australia has already been a leader in that ongoing discussion, and next month will play host to the first naval exercise aimed at developing such capabilities.
Now, when you think about it, ladies and gentlemen, there’s a tremendous irony in this. Think of it. Australian and American forces will be training together in the Coral Sea, exploring the horizon line of new possibilities for our partnership, with the participation of Japan, with the participation of Italy, and with the participation of Germany as well. All over a great reef of memory, made of the skeletal hulls of ships and planes lost in the Second World War. And at the same time, Australian and South Pacific forces will be in the Solomon Islands, helping to keep peace in the places where some of that war’s most fierce battles once raged.
Indeed, in just two days’ time we’re going to mark the anniversary of the end of World War II. But that terrible, destructive battle was also the beginning of a special relationship between our two nations. At a time when much of the Australian military was in the Middle East and in Europe, defending allied interests, US forces came here to defend Australia. We joined together then to protect our national security, but also to protect regional stability and to build a global system based on peace and prosperity.
We join together today for much the same purpose. I believe there will be a great continuity in our cause, forged out of the bones of our grandfathers and the blood of our children as we move forward into this millennium. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very, very much.
QUESTION AND ANSWER PERIOD
CHAIR: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s not my task to thank Mr Armitage for that splendid address, that will be done by Richard Fisher a little later. It’s my role to moderate questions. We're very happy to take questions from the floor, perhaps preferably from members of the Asian Society but also from the media. And I’d like those to who do ask questions to state their name and the organization from which they come. I’d just like to make one comment, Richard. You made a quotation about me and it was very generous of you what you said, but I think that the housemaster who said I had a self-destructive instinct 60 years ago, I think at my age I’m more interested in self-preservation. Anyway, be that as it may, we’ll now take some questions from the floor before Richard Fisher formally thanks you.
QUESTION: My question is what do you feel is the accuracy of the intelligence information provided by the US Government? And also, second question as well, what’s the relationship between the State Department and the Defense Department in the United States?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Should I answer the second part first? Some would describe it as prickly. Some would describe it as tendentious. I describe it as a necessary functioning of democracy. In the United States we’ve got a President who enjoys strong people with strong views. His feeling is if you can’t fight it out in front of him and let him make a decision then we’re not serving him well. There’s certainly a lot of tension and always has been. I learned at the knee of two fellows well known to Australia, Caspar Weinberger and George Schultz, two people who couldn’t even agree on a breakfast menu when they dined together in the morning. So this is not a new phenomenon.
The first part of the question had to do with how do I judge the accuracy of US intelligence and I guess it kind of depends on the situation. The technical capabilities are extraordinary. In the main I think in its entirety these are capabilities which our Australian friends have access to and would probably agree in what I say about them. Where we lack is where we’ve always lacked and that is in very good, in-depth human intelligence. We’re doing better. We’ve done a lot better, but the only way one can know the intentions of an enemy, the true intentions, is through generally human intelligence and that’s a long pole in I think every intelligence organization's tent.
CHAIR: Professor Gibson from the Macquarie School of Business Management, is that right?
QUESTION: Mr Armitage, thank you very much for your most interesting address. I’d like to ask a question about US forward thinking about the Australian relationship. Has the US Government asked Australia to think about carrying US troops on Australian mainland soil? And if not, under what conditions do you think that request might be put forward?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: To my knowledge we have not asked the Australian Government and to my knowledge we don’t intend to ask it. Australia is a wonderful country, wonderful people. There’s one problem and it’s called geography, sir. It’s a long way here and everything that military forces are doing as they look to the future is involved with making them more mobile, more hostile, more agile, more lethal - all of that, and that’s one of the reasons that Australia would be a great place to train if at some point of time this was deemed mutually acceptable, but there’s no plan for a base here.
QUESTION: Tony Richmond from the University of Western Australia. I am intrigued your comments maybe they are [inaudible] rapprochement with China that we might have understood, but the economic rapprochement seems to becoming strained. I mean, I understand your trade deficit is enormous with China. To our perception here in Australia, China’s trade is certainly important but the exchange rate of course - well, to put it mildly, it's cheap. Does America see this as part of the argument that you’ve got with China? Are you going to try to do with China what you did with Japan roughly in the mid ‘80s? Try and persuade them to alter how they trade with you?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: You’re precisely correct that we have a ballooning trade deficit with China. One of the reasons that our Secretary of Treasury and others and other international forces have asked the Chinese to consider a depreciation of the Renminbi addresses that in the longer term, it would certainly not in the short term have much of an effect. For the People’s Republic of China, I suspect if two years ago I stood in front of this august body, not a person here would say that the US was going to be able, after the EP3 incidents, the so-called spy plane incident, to have a congenial relationship with the People’s Republic of China. And yet President Hu Jintao recently said it’s the best relationship ever existed between the United States and China. So we have problems and we also have some common interests. We’re going to work on the problems together. Hopefully privately and quietly and not publicly through the news media and where our common interests come to the fore then we’ll work again diplomatically such as we’re doing with North Korea. But I might add that we are absolutely delighted with the state of our relations with People’s Republic of China and the direction we’re going. Now, we may be a little envious of the $25 billion gas deal that I was recently reading about here.
QUESTION: Thank you, Deputy Secretary of State. Has the American Government actually asked Australia to help interdict the shipping of North Korea, and if so, under what conventions?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: It’s quite clear to us that the architecture of nonproliferation which we’ve enjoyed and all benefited from for a great number of years post World War II, the nuclear age, is still necessary but no longer sufficient when we’re dealing with either the so-called rogue states or transnational actors of failed states. So we’re trying to come up, as I suggested in my remarks, with novel approaches to this. And among the things we’re discussing in the 11 nation body-- soon I think to go to Paris-- to discuss these further is everything from the legality of doing inspections, for instance at sea, but the security initiative is not simply a matter of seaborne activity, it has to do with transit of materials through different airports etcetera. We’re also looking at liability. This is an initiative which is not quite ready for unveiling and that’s why we’re having the very intense discussions and that’s why I very carefully noted that the Government of Australia is involved in the discussions because we ourselves haven’t hit on the total complete answer to our questions about liability and about international legality. There are rights and circumstances to board and check bills of lading etcetera, particularly when, as seems to be the case, the flags on the ships don’t recently match the countries of origin held on the bill of lading. But these are things that we’re trying to work out together.
QUESTION: Karen Snowden from Radio Australia. Sir, I just wonder if you can tell us what intelligence the US administration has or what proof there is at this stage about North Korea’s capability in the nuclear field? Has reprocessing started? How far are they down the plutonium track? And is the regime developing a nuclear weapon? What can you tell us of that?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: I think I’ll restrain myself from indulging in giving exactly the facts and figures of our intelligence in North Korea and content myself, ma’am, to say that it is our intelligence estimate publicly - or made public - that the North Koreans have one or two nuclear weapons now. There was no question in our mind, and I don’t think in the minds of anyone in the governments in Asia including China and the Republic of Korea now, that North Korea was intent on reprocessing the spent fuel in the so-called 8,000 rods, and I think there’s very little doubt that there was a highly enriched uranium facility. After all, you don’t have to take the word of the US Government or the Australian Office of National Assessments or anything else, you can just listen to what North Koreans say about their own capabilities and come up with a pretty good picture over time of what they say they have.
QUESTION: Mr Armitage, it’s Greg Cusack from Bell Potter Securities. Just on that North Korean question. Do you regard their focus on nuclear weaponry more of a political means to blackmail or something more sinister?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Well, I don’t know that I can get inside the head of Kim Jong-Il, but I don’t think that any of us should look at anything other than the threat it represents, and the threat to me is several-fold. The real threat is not so much the use of a weapon, which I think is possible, but it is the proliferation of technology or fissile material that clearly is a need for cash in North Korea for a number of reasons well known to this audience. And fissile material to rogue states or transnational actors would be a tempting possibility. This is the real and the major concern that we have about North Korea. We wish North Korea no ill will. We have differences with them over their conventional force posture, certainly over their human rights and their disregard for the rights and livelihoods and lives of their people. But as I say, we wish them no ill will but we have a real concern-- I believe shared here-- that proliferation of not only technology, but fissile material, is a line we don’t want to see crossed.
QUESTION: Mr Armitage, Trevor Rowe. If you subscribe to the proposition, sir, that most terrorists seem to emerge from either a situation where they’re disenfranchised or from countries that are poor in terms of standard of living where there’s poor education or little hope or opportunity, is it feasible that we globally should be looking at some form of Marshall Plan? And in fact is a Marshall Plan indeed feasible, or what’s your thoughts in terms of dealing with the root cause, as I see it, of terrorism?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: I disagree with your view of the root cause. Clearly disenfranchisement, political or economic are a breeding ground. We saw that most specifically in Morocco. But if you look at the Saudis-- the 15 Saudis who attacked the World Trade Center-- you do not see the same sort of economic problems. You do see some political disenfranchisement. If you look at the leadership of Al Qaeda, whether it’s Osama bin Laden or Dr Zawahiri, you find that people came from actually privileged positions. So I think it’s a lot more complicated and the ideology is not simply that it’s bred in slums, though certainly people who have no hope can become willing foot soldiers.
Regarding a Marshall program, I guess I would say in principle sure, that’s a great idea. The United States has historic levels of monies these days going into including $15 billion in an HIV/AIDS program for primarily Africa but also for Haiti and Guyana and the Russian Federation once they really come to grips with the totality of their problem. We are the leading donor and we not only are the leading donor around the world, we look and try to lead others to join us in their own programs in various countries. So I don’t know that I could go so far as to call it a Marshall Plan but the general proposition of raising the level of the general public good is one that George W. Bush would heartily subscribe to.
CHAIR: We’ve got time for just two more, I think.
QUESTION: Mr Armitage, can you say a few words about progress being made on the roadmap, the Palestinian-Israeli thing, because surely that must be one of the most dangerous spots in the world.
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Yes, there are a lot of unfortunately I think a lot of dangerous spots in the world. India-Pakistan comes to mind with Kashmir. You saw it in Jakarta just a couple of days ago. God knows we have our hands full of challenges. The Middle East peace process, we feel that there’s an interlocutor in Abu Mazen who does instill assurance of confidence in our Israeli friends. And although Mr Sharon is a tough nut to crack, he will do what he says he’ll do. We’re convinced that he is a man of his word and we’ve just begun the first steps on that road to peace. The two suicide bombings of yesterday-- responsibility has been claimed by Hamas-- are a real hiccup. I won’t call it a roadblock but it’s something we have to get over. To get over it we’re going to need much more aggressive activities. Mr Dahlan and his security apparatus in the Palestinian Authority to not only have a hudna, a so-called cease fire, because that’s only temporary, but a dismantlement of terrorists who threaten innocent civilians.
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.