|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright,
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen,
Foreign Minister of Australia Alexander Downer, and
Defense Minister of Australia John Moore
Remarks following the U.S.-Australia Ministerial Meeting
Washington, D.C., November 3, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good afternoon and G'day.
Secretary Cohen and I are pleased to welcome Foreign Minister Downer and Defense Minister Moore to Washington for this important annual event.
The four of us have just finished a very full and productive six hours of consultations. We covered a lot of important ground, including our ongoing efforts to assist East Timor in its transition to independence.
We explored ways to support Indonesia's new government, as it pursues national reconciliation and a more deeply-rooted democracy.
We reviewed pressing regional concerns, from South Asia and North Korea to the Taiwan Strait and the Spratlys.
We reiterated our support for non-proliferation and arms control, including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and improved enforcement of the Biological Weapons Convention.
And, in preparation for the WTO Ministerial in Seattle, we outlined our trade goals, emphasizing a common desire to eliminate agricultural export subsidies.
These are complex issues that directly affect the security and prosperity of both our countries. It would be reasonable to expect some disagreements. But today, there weren't many. The truth is there may be no country on the planet with whom we have a better working relationship than Australia.
Our Alliance is a reminder that when it comes to diplomacy, values matter far more than proximity. On the map, we could hardly be further apart. But as defenders of political and economic freedom, and advocates of the rule of law, we are inseparable.
There is quite a bit of sand on Australia's beaches; but Australians do not hide their heads in it. In fact, Australia stood tall whenever it has counted throughout this tumultuous decade - from the Gulf War to Cambodia to Kosovo, and now East Timor.
INTERFET's performance over the past seven weeks has been outstanding. Under Australia's leadership, sixteen nations, including the United States, have come together quickly to restore order and assist with humanitarian relief. As a result, we can hope for an early hand-off from INTERFET to the United Nations.
Of course, we have taken only the first steps in a longer process. It will take time -- and resources -- for the people of East Timor to build democratic institutions and a market economy. They start with little except a group of strong leaders and an indomitable will.
In recent months, the United States and its allies, including Australia, have had to perform a difficult diplomatic balancing act. We supported a peaceful transition to a new status reflecting the outcome of a referendum in East Timor; while encouraging democratic change in Indonesia.
The violence that followed East Timor's choice for independence was tragic and avoidable. The Indonesian armed forces were complicit in the destruction and have an ongoing responsibility now to prevent attacks emanating from West Timor.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian people deserve great credit for the free and fair election of a new President and Vice President whose leadership they are counting on to reform the economy, end corruption, and resolve regional disputes.
America, like Australia, is a member of the Asia Pacific community. We have a strong interest in helping the peacekeeping and United Nations missions in East Timor to succeed, and in assessing the efforts of the Indonesian people to strengthen civil society.
With allies such as Australia taking the lead, we will not bear the largest burden; but we have a responsibility to do our part to assist. This is yet another reason why I am calling on Congress to back our foreign policy interests with resources, and to pay our UN bills.
In closing, I want to thank Foreign Minister Downer, Defense Minister Moore, the Australian military, and the Australian people for the terrific job they have been doing and we are proud and grateful to have you as allies.
Foreign Minister Downer.
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: Well, thank you very much, Secretary, and Secretary Cohen as well. And, first, can I begin by thanking our United States hosts for their arrangements and for looking after us today at the AUSMIN meeting.
Today's AUSMIN continued the warm and open dialogue which I think it's fair to say has characterized our exchanges over the last few AUSMINs since the AUSMIN in Sidney in 1996.
The depth and frankness of our discussions reflect both sides' mutual confidence in and commitment to the Alliance and our shared perceptions of many of the key issues in the international agenda.
We have reaffirmed that substantive US engagement in the Asia Pacific remains a fundamental cornerstone to regional security and development, and we believe this is increasingly recognized by other regional partners.
Obviously, as the Secretary of State said, developments in Indonesia and East Timor were focal points in our discussions, but it's important that I reaffirm that we agreed that the election of a new government in Indonesia has been a very positive development and we, on both our sides, congratulate the government and people of Indonesia on managing very well the difficult challenges of a new political process, and we look to the rebuilding of our relationship with Indonesia over the coming months.
Australia and the United States have cooperated closely on the establishment and the operation of INTERFET, the International Force in East Timor, and we're both committed to seeing a successful and effective transition from INTERFET to the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor.
Australia appreciates enormously the contribution which the United States has made, which we see as demonstrating the Alliance at work. We look forward to continuing this cooperation with and the engagement of the United States in East Timor.
East Timor, though, hasn't completely dominated our dialogue over the day. We've shared assessments on developments in the regional environment, including the Korean Peninsula, China and Japan, and we've also discussed the evolving dynamics of the ASEAN regional forum.
We share a desire for the advancement of the nonproliferation and disarmament agendas. Australia remains concerned by the potential impacts of the United States Senate rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and we do welcome the Administration's assurances of their commitment to the Treaty's underlying elements and the intent to pursue the wider agendas in these fields.
Can I just say in conclusion that over lunch we also discussed multilateral and bilateral trade issues and this was, of course, focused in particular on the lead-up to the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle at the end of this month, and Australia and the United States share agreement on the need to launch a substantive new round of trade liberalization.
And on bilateral trade issues, we reiterated the well-known positions that Australia has on questions such as the lamb question and there are, of course, a range of other trade issues that we briefly discussed.
So let me just say that we particularly appreciate the warmth of the welcome that Secretary Albright and Secretary Cohen have extended to us, and we have built up a very close relationship now over quite some years and we find the relationship and the Alliance itself to be in very good shape, in very good working order.
SECRETARY COHEN: Thank you Secretary Albright, and Minister Downer, Mr. Moore. I have a very lengthy statement that I am prepared to deliver but, in view of the fact that I agree with both the very complete statements offered by Secretary Albright and Minister Downer, let me say I associate myself with their remarks and just make a couple of quick points.
This past September, Minister Moore and I traveled to -- met in Cairns - and then traveled together to Darwin to meet the troops who were participating in the East Timor peacekeeping mission. And I must say during that visit I was very, very impressed with the -- not only the quality of the troops that were there, but especially the quality of the Australian leadership.
This mission, the INTERFET mission, is succeeding in large part because Australia has built and has led an impressive international peacekeeping team. And as all of you know, we have had an outstanding relationship with Australia over the years. They have been with us side by side. They are with us today in virtually every region that we have called upon them to help us with, and we are standing side by side with them in this peacekeeping mission as well. The AUSMIN ministerials that we hold we find extraordinarily productive, and as Minister Downer has said, we have one of the finest relationships that one could ask for. And as Secretary Albright has indicated, the distance is perhaps quite long but the relationship is extremely close, and we are very grateful for that.
DEFENSE MINISTER MOORE: Secretary Albright, Secretary Cohen and Alexander, can I just join with Alexander in thanking you very much indeed for hosting today's event. I'm the new boy, and this is my first AUSMIN meeting. So with great expectations, we come to Washington to meet with the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.
What did I expect and what did I get? Well, I got a lot more than I expected. It is a very, very open and frank discussion in every respect. I valued very much the years and opinions put forward at the meeting by both Secretaries. And I think that the -- in reflection of it all, it's hard to imagine too many differences. The degree of cooperation or degree of support that we got in the field in East Timor was echoed around the table today, and I certainly want to thank Secretary Cohen in particular for the way in which he came to Australia, saw what was going on, visited the other ASEAN countries and came back here and followed up with a degree of support that he has. It's been quite outstanding.
As for the surroundings and meeting place, well, Sidney Harbor wasn't bad, but this is really quite fantastic, and I'm very pleased to be here.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.
QUESTION: A report commissioned by Speaker Hastert released today says that North Korea in terms of weapons of mass destruction is a far more threatening country than it was five years ago when it Agreed Framework was signed. Do you have any response to that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I haven't had a chance to read this report, but I do believe that the work that we have all done in cooperation with Former Secretary of Defense Perry, in fact, shows that we are very conscious of the threat from North Korea and have been working diligently with the South Koreans and the Japanese in order to be able to mitigate it. And we have managed to get a moratorium on missile tests and we believe that the Framework Agreement is a very good one in terms of freezing the nuclear weapons grade material.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Craig McMurtry, ABC Australia. I'd like to ask you, what is the US position on leadership of the UN peacekeeping mission that's to replace the multinational force in East Timor, specifically on whether Australia should lead it?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me first say that as Secretary Cohen said, we are filled with admiration in the way that Australia has led the multinational force and very grateful for the work that has been done. It is obviously up to the Secretary General to decide who should lead it and I think that I would like to simply say that we do believe that Australia has done a magnificent job and hope that they will be able to fulfill their responsibilities along with the rest of us as we move into the next phase.
QUESTION: A question, I think, mainly for Mr. Moore. One of the problems in East Timor has obviously been that very few of the refugees from West Timor have so far agreed to go home. How do the Australians, as the leaders in the peacekeeping force, what is your strategy for persuading them to go home?
DEFENSE MINISTER MOORE: I was in Dili on Friday to see the conditions on the ground. I have to say that when you look around the devastation in East Timor it is quite clear that the campaign that was run there post the ballot would lead to some of the citizens of East Timor certainly getting out of Dili and heading for the hills.
I have to also say that when you fly over the hills I don't see great congregations of people and so the first thing we need to do there is to demonstrate not only the fact that we have -- the United Nations have -- secured pretty reasonable control of East Timor. All the major roads in East Timor now are open for the NGOs and traffic and a very high degree of security is there.
But I think to get everybody home at the present moment, that needs to be demonstrated probably to the people who are not there, to those that are in the hills to come out, and for those that are in West Timor to be given every indication that it's safe to return home. That also requires the authorities, the TNI in particular, to ensure that these people are granted and allowed a free and peaceful passage back to their homeland.
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: Can I just very briefly add to that by saying in West Timor it's obviously beyond the operation of INTERFET, but in West Timor we are particularly concerned about the refugees and it is a very high priority for the Australian Government to see that the refugees are able to return safely to East Timor, those who wish to return to East Timor.
We have had very good assurances from the Indonesian Government that those who wish to return will be able to return, but so far only about 35,000 have gone back to East Timor. That's probably somewhere in the vicinity of 15, 20 percent of the refugees who are in West Timor so there are still many, many more there in refugee camps and we're concerned about their status in those camps and their capacity to get back when they want to.
QUESTION: Cameron Forbes, The Australian. A question both for Secretary Albright and for Mr. Downer. Isn't there conflict between the WTO aim of ending agricultural subsidies and what now seems to be the annual practice in America of massive, multi-billion dollar farm rescue packages?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No. (Laughter.)
FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: Our position is that these are the issues we want on the agenda in the WTO. That's why the round needs to be a comprehensive round; it's why -- I mean, you can imagine from a perspective of a country like Australia, these multi-million, multi-billion dollar packages by both the United States and, of course, the European Union, are at the end of the day, a significant disruption to global farm trade and it is important to us. And so we would like to see in the WTO ultimately agreement to phase down and eliminate this type of support. But that's what the negotiation will be about.
But I should say on the WTO that our position and the United States' position is very close. We have had excellent cooperation so far in the lead up to the Seattle meeting and we hope that the European Union and Japan and a number of other countries will take a very constructive approach in Seattle towards the overall process of trade liberalization because it's what the world needs.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We do believe that there are great opportunities in this WTO round. A lot of work has gone into it already and I think that we see it as a comprehensive round and want to make sure that it deals with as many issues as possible. But I do think, as Mr. Downer said, not everyone is in agreement on how to deal with the agricultural aspects of it. But we are all looking forward to this round and, in terms of our bilateral relations, we had fish for lunch. (Laughter.)
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