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Prime Minister In New Zealand

'Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Howard?'

March 09, 2003

The Prime Minister, John Howard, is in New Zealand for talks with his counterpart, Helen Clark, on the 20th anniversary of the Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement between the two nations.

This interview with Mike Hosking of TV One gives an indication of the current view of Howard in the Pacific region.


This is the transcript of the Prime Minister's interview with Mike Hosking of TV One, New Zealand.

HOSKING:

Give me your assessment, if you could, of the chances of the US-British resolution going to the UN this week being passed.

PRIME MINISTER:

Iím dealing with the issue as it unfolds. I believe the 18th resolution on Iraq, which it will be, should be passed with or without an amendment. Iím not particularly fussed either way because I think it will build further pressure on Iraq and maybe there is a faint hope if it is passed, that Iraq will finally see the light of day and Ďfess up and military conflict can be avoided.

HOSKING:

You wouldnít want to put a lot of money on that though, would you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well once again Mike, I donít have the luxury of sort of talking in that kind of fashion.

HOSKING:

What you do have the luxury of though is the ear of the President of the United States of America. Do you know anything we donít as regards when war starts?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, he is trying to get a resolution through and so is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

HOSKING:

Are you in the loop?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I donít know what that means.

HOSKING:

Do they call you and tell you things that they donít tell anybody else?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously we have a good relationship with the American administration, but Iím not on an important issue like this going to lapse into the lingo of the ultra conversational. Itís a serious issue this. Weíre talking here about what I see as the danger of chemical and biological weapons getting into the hands of terrorists, and I donít regard that as a lighthearted subject. Itís quite a serious subject and thatís why Iím answering in a serious tone.

HOSKING:

So in taking this stance, why canít you, why canít Blair, why canít Bush, convince the rest of the world that youíre right?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the question of whether the rest of the world is convinced or not is something on which the jury is out, but in the end sovereign Governments have to take decisions that they believe are right and they believe are in the interests of their nation, and in the interests of the community of nations.

HOSKING:

The irony of this is that youíre also a member of the United Nations. What is your assessment of how the United Nations has handled this whole Iraq situation over the last 12 years?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it will depend a bit on how the Security Council behaves over the next few days. I think up until President Bush went back to the United Nations in September of last year, the United Nations had basically failed the test. And if the United Nations, through the Security Council, cannot effectively disarm Iraq, it will do enormous damage to its credibility.

HOSKING:

And so if they donít pass this coming resolution this week, theyíve failed another test?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think if the United Nations doesnít pass a resolution, the Security Council rather, doesnít pass this resolution, I think it will have failed a test. And if it behaves in a way that allows Iraq to get off the hook about disarming, then itís going to damage, seriously damage, its credibility.

HOSKING:

Are we going to have to rewrite international law, because presumably if they fail that test, the world now looks to the United States for a lead, donít they? If there is an international trouble spot, whatís America going to do, not what the United Nations is going to do.

PRIME MINISTER:

I donít think you automatically make that link.

HOSKING:

Why not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because I donít think you do. I think you have to look at each situation according to its circumstances.

HOSKING:

If you canít trust the United Nations Security Council on Iraq, would you trust them on North Korea for example?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think you make a very valid point. If the Security Council canít discipline Iraq, it doesnít have an earthly hope of disciplining North Korea.

HOSKING:

Is Australia in danger?

PRIME MINISTER:

All western countries are at risk.

HOSKING:

Is Australia more in danger now because of the stance youíve taken?

PRIME MINISTER:

I donít believe so. If you look at what has happened over the last few years, you see western citizens struck down irrespective of the attitude of the Governments of their countries. And youíve got to remember that the 1990s saw the gradual rise of international terrorism well before the election of the current administration in the United States. So terrorism rose under a different response, if I can put it like that, from the United States Government.

HOSKING:

Have you ever considered that the stance that youíre taking on Iraq is political suicide for you?

PRIME MINISTER:

My duty as an elected leader is to listen to people and then to make up my mind as to what is in the best interests of the country. Sometimes my decisions are initially unpopular. Sometimes my decisions are always unpopular. Sometimes my decisions start off being unpopular, and then they end up being a little more popular depending on what happened. But thatís the lot of a democratic leader.

HOSKING:

Well itís an interesting thing, democracy, isnít it, because youíre only there because of the people. The people are telling you right now youíre wrong. Why arenít you listening to the people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well other people, and often the same people, have said to me in the past that I was poll driven. They canít be right both times, can they?

HOSKING:

Which is it going to be this time Ė are they eventually going to turn around and say you were right, well done?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I donít know, but what I do know is that I believe in what I am doing, and I believe in the stance that I am taking. Thatís what I know. And in the end, that is the only course of action that I can take.

HOSKING:

Is this the greatest test of your leadership so far?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is the most difficult issue Iíve had, yes.

HOSKING:

How hard have you wrestled with it?

PRIME MINISTER:

You always anguish over something like this, but I have never thought of changing my position. Never.

HOSKING:

How are you going to explain the first body bag to the Australian people if it comes to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the Australian people will understand that if we are ever engaged in military conflict, that casualties could occur. But casualties can occur in the most benign of circumstances. We lost 88 Australians in Bali because of a wilful act of international terrorism, and we all had to grapple with that. And I will, amongst other things, be asking the Australian people to bear those circumstances in mind if we become involved in military contact with Iraq.

HOSKING:

Do you expect casualties, Australian casualties in this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, weíre not engaged in military conflict. Obviously, when there is a military conflict, there is always a danger of casualties. One of the advantages of deploying our troops early is that if they are sent into battle, they will have been acclimatised and got ready for that conflict.

HOSKING:

Bush said early on in this whole piece, youíre either with us or against us. Does that same logic apply to New Zealand in your relationship with them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, every leader has a different way of expressing things. George Bush has his language. I have mine. As far as New Zealand is concerned, our differences of approach on this issue are not going to contaminate the relationship in any way.

HOSKING:

I wasnít suggesting they were.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well whether you were suggesting it or not, I just wanted to take the opportunity of making that observation.

HOSKING:

Alright. Do you see us as against you though?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I donít. I donít see New ZealandÖ

HOSKING:

But we are.

PRIME MINISTER:

No. New Zealand and Australia would both like to see Iraq disarm. But a relationship has many dimensions and there is no way that I am going to see this in terms of New Zealand against us, or Canada against us, or whatever. That is not my philosophy. I have a strong view, a strong position, and I have very considerable regard for the leadership that President Bush has displayed on this issue. Let me leave people in no doubt about that.

HOSKING:

How do you see the war going, if there is a war?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well to begin to speculate about how the war might go is to encourage a view that there is still no hope of a peaceful resolution, and I donít want to encourage that view.

HOSKING:

Is it fair to suggest though that one of the things we can rely on with the UN is itís entirely predictable. That you have a deadline, you get an al-Samoud missile destroyed, itís a charade, and itís a predictable charade.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think itís fair to say that Iraq would never have made any concessions, pitiful though they may be, towards disarmament had it not been for the American military presence, the very presence criticised by the people who are very happy to argue that the inspectors should be given more time.

HOSKING:

But having said that, what Iím suggesting to you is that we all know where the UN are going on this. There is no resolution going to be passed this week. The time is going to run out. A war needs to be started.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is your assertion and youíre entitled to make itÖ

HOSKING:

Itís not just mine. Itís most peopleís assertion.

PRIME MINISTER:

Itís your assertion and youíre entitled to make it. I donít have the luxury of making a whole lot of assertions. I have to deal with the implications of my words.

HOSKING:

Do you subscribe then to the US theory that if a war broke out, that it would be quick and clean and democracy generally would come to the Middle East?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly think that if one of the consequences of military conflict were the departure of Saddam Hussein, the world and the Middle East would be a better place, and Iím sure thatís the view of all of the Arab countries that surround Iraq.

HOSKING:

Do you also think that once a war started, other countries would actually fall into line behind you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, once again, Iím not going to predict the behaviour of other countries. I simply make the observation that unless Iraq is effectively disarmed, she does represent a threat not only to her region, but by her example as a rogue state having chemical and biological weapons, to other countries and I worry that those weapons will one day get into the hands of terrorists. That is why Iím taking the stance I am. That is why I feel so strongly about it.

HOSKING:

And you will be doing that with other countries as well? This is a long-term view of yours. Once you have Iraq sorted out, that same attitude applies to other countries like North Korea for example.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, once again, I donít have the luxury of jumping from one country to another. Circumstances are different. But I do know this, that if theÖ

HOSKING:

Itís a very real threat.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. Youíre right. And that is why a failure of will by the Security Council over Iraq will render the handling of North Korea, which is in our own region, infinitely more difficult.

HOSKING:

Explain to New Zealand, because we got excited about it the other day, that youíre going to surround Australia with a star wars missile defence system. Are you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you shouldnít have got excited. What we said was that we would talk to the Americans about their plans to develop it, and I defended the logic of talking to them without in any way committing myself to it, and I think itís a perfectly intelligent position to have.

HOSKING:

Well what youíve suggested to me is youíre seriously worried about North Korea, seriously worried enough to be able to look at surrounding your countryÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

What Iíve said to you is that North Korea broke a deal that it made with the United States under President Clinton some years ago, has developed a significant nuclear capacity, and that ought to be of concern to New Zealand as much as it is of concern to Australia. Now I havenít said any more than that, and that is all I intend to say at the present time.

HOSKING:

Let me just wrap this up with a couple of questions. How much of this whole view of the world, your stance with America and Britain, has to do with your middle name?

PRIME MINISTER:

None.

HOSKING:

You donít feel Churchillian?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, look I regarded him as the greatest figure of the 20th century because he stood alone against Nazism, and gave great leadership. But weíre a world away from those days, and much and all as I admire the man and admire many figures out of history, and heís not the only one, this is a different world and I donítÖ

HOSKING:

But still a dangerous world.

PRIME MINISTER:

A dangerous world, and you can draw some lessons from that period and one of those lessons is that if you walk away from problems hoping theyíll disappear, youíre wrong, and one day theyíll come back to bite you in an even bigger way than you thought would be the case when you first confronted them.

HOSKING:

Appreciate your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

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