9 April 2009
Joint Press Conference with Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith, Australian Minister for Defence Joel Fitzgibbon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates - Washington DC
Subjects: Maersk ship/piracy; AUSMIN communiqué; Afghanistan; criticism of US supplemental war funding; cybersecurity.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Before I get started and talk about the important and substantive meeting we had today, I want to say a word about the situation involving the Maersk ship. Secretary Gates and I are fully engaged in this matter. We consider it a very serious matter. These people are nothing more than criminals. And we are bringing to bear a number of our assets, including naval and FBI work in order to resolve the hostage situation and bring the pirates to justice. Piracy may be a centuries-old crime, but we are working to bring an appropriate 21st century response.
Today, it's been a great pleasure to host not only my colleague, Secretary Gates, but also Foreign Minister Smith and Defence Minister Fitzgibbon for this year's Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations. As President Obama said a few weeks ago when he met with Prime Minister Rudd, there are few countries that have been closer than the United States and Australia. And I think holding this AUSMIN meeting during the Obama Administration's first 100 days underscores the importance we attach to our alliance and our belief in the strength of our partnership to meet bilateral, regional and global challenges.
We had a far-reaching discussion that was indicative of the shared values and common approaches we take on many issues. We talked about our cooperation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, how we will intensify our efforts to defeat extremism, strengthen the rule of law, and promote economic development. We look forward to discussing these issues with the international community at the April 17th Pakistan donors conference in Tokyo.
We also discussed Iran and the ongoing efforts of the international community to ensure that Iran's nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. We discussed the important goal of non-proliferation and a world without nuclear weapons, and how we will work together to strengthen the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty regime.
And of course, we talked a lot about Asia. The United States is back engaged more fully in Asia. We need to expand our partnerships in the Asia Pacific region to address a wide range of concerns, from security issues to the economic crisis to climate change. We appreciate the constructive advice of our friends, and we are listening. Our commitment to a more rigorous, persistent engagement with the countries of Asia goes hand in hand with the work we do together with Australia. And our conversation underscored what a valuable partner Australia is in this endeavour, how we can use smart power to achieve shared security and shared prosperity.
The AUSMIN communiqué, which has been agreed upon and distributed, highlights several other outcomes of the meeting today. But let me just conclude by saying what a pleasure it was for me personally to host this important meeting, how very pleased I am with the discussions we had, and how much I'm looking forward to building on our valuable and enduring friendship. So thank you both very much and your delegations for coming, and now let me ask Foreign Minister Smith to address you.
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: Well, Madame Secretary, thank you very much for that. And on behalf of the Australian delegation, can I thank you and Secretary of Defense Gates very much, firstly for your warm welcome, and secondly for the very positive and constructive and substantive conversation we've had today.
Mr. Fitzgibbon and I have been in the United States, in Washington, for the last two days. Yesterday, we had a series of bilateral meetings, as you and I did. And today, of course, we had the formal AUSMIN consultations. The AUSMIN consultations underline the importance of the alliance relationship between Australia and the United States. This is an alliance relationship that has served us very well for 60 years or so, and it remains an indispensible part of Australia's security, strategic, and defence arrangements.
We've been having AUSMIN meetings since 1985, so next year in Australia will be the 25th AUSMIN that we conduct in 2010. And it has become the important premier organizational institution so far as the alliance is concerned.
In addition to the importance of the relationship between Australia and the United States, as Secretary of State Clinton has indicated, we traversed the array of important global issues, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Iran, including our shared commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, the abolition ultimately of nuclear weapons, and our concern about proliferation, particularly North Korea and Iran.
We talked extensively about the importance of the United States engagement in the Asia Pacific, and we welcome very much - welcome very much - the very strong message from the new Administration that the United States wants to enhance its engagement in the Asia Pacific. And the Secretary of State's first visit to Indonesia, China, Japan, and Korea reflected this, and we welcome that very much.
Mr. Fitzgibbon and I were very pleased with the positive and constructive conversation that we had. Of course, we spoke about Afghanistan, and within the context of the overarching strategic review conducted by Mr. Riedel, which was effectively - which is effectively now, following the Afghanistan meeting in The Hague last week, now we believe an international consensus to pursue a greater military contribution, but importantly a greater civilian capacity-building and training contribution, and at some stage, the need for political dialogue amongst the Afghanistan leadership.
In that context, of course, we had a discussion about what, if anything, more Australia could do in the civil reconstruction or training area, in military contribution, and also, importantly, any temporary contribution we could make for the election in August of this year. Those discussions were very helpful, and Mr. Fitzgibbon and I will take the benefit of those discussions back to Australia to discuss with the Prime Minister and our other cabinet colleagues. No decisions were made, no requests made, and no commitments given, but it was a very helpful discussion so far as the Australian Government coming to a conclusion about what, if anything, we can do further to help. And as I've indicated publicly over the last couple of days, we expect that that decision will be made in a matter of weeks. So we expect in the very near future to be able to make and announce a formal decision on that matter.
Madame Secretary, thank you very much for your hospitality and for the constructive and positive dialogue that we've had today. And we look forward to welcoming you and Secretary of Defense Gates to Australia next year for the AUSMIN consultations. And of course, in the meantime, as is always the case, both of you are welcome warmly to attend Australia anytime you feel like it. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.
MR. WOOD: The first question will be from Matt Lee, Associated Press.
QUESTION: Hi, Madame Secretary and gentlemen.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Hello.
QUESTION: I'm wondering if Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton could be a little bit more specific about the - what the U.S. is doing in this pirate situation right now in terms of this individual incident. But also, I'm wondering if I can ask all of you what exactly can and should be done to address what seems to be the root cause of this, which is the instability and insecurity in Somalia.
SECRETARY GATES: Let me take the first part of the question and ask Secretary Clinton to take the second part.
I really don't have a lot to add to what Secretary Clinton said. We are monitoring the situation, obviously, very closely. The safe return of the captain is the top priority. We obviously have a naval presence in the area and other assets, and we are obviously looking at our options. But again, foremost in our minds is the safety of the captain.
SECRETARY CLINTON: With respect to the general problem posed by piracy off the Horn of Africa, the State Department has been in the lead in helping to put together an international task force. There are a number of nations now, ranging from, of course, the United States to Europe to Asia, including Japan and China and Korea, which have naval vessels in the waters off the Horn of Africa. I think the ocean area we're referring to is three times the size of Texas. I mean, we're talking about a very large expanse of water with a lot of naval traffic going through it.
We have had some success in coordinating amongst the contributors to this naval task force. We are looking for ways to increase the effectiveness of what we are doing, including the recruitment of additional partners to be part of the surveillance work that is done. But we also understand that the instability in Somalia is a contributing factor to those who take to the seas in order to board ships, hijack them, intimidate and threaten their crews, and then seek ransom.
If there is any good news in this, it is that, thus far, these matters have not resulted in loss of life and violent conflict. And that is an important consideration, which is why, as Secretary Gates said, we are following this carefully and monitoring it. We have an American citizen who is currently being held hostage by the group of individuals in a lifeboat. So we are watching this and intend to do all we can to make sure there is no loss of life.
I guess I would conclude by saying that this is an old scourge. One of the very first actions that was undertaken by our country in its very beginning was to go after pirates along the Barbary Coast. And it's important that we come up with an international resolution of this, and we will be consulting closely and widely to determine what else other countries are willing to do and what further steps the international community believes should be taken.
MR. WOOD: The next question Michael Rowland, Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Gates, when you do get around to asking formally for more Australian help in Afghanistan, will you be seeking combat troops as well as military trainers and civilians? And Minister Fitzgibbon, is that something Australia will countenance?
SECRETARY GATES: Well, let me just make two observations. First, Australia has been there with us throughout and has been in the thick of the fighting, has lost too many of its sons. And I think that the way that I would put it is the way I described our goals when I was at Krakow for the defence ministers meeting, which is, obviously, in all of these areas, civilian, military, military training, police training; we and the Afghans can use all the help we can get. What Australia is prepared to do is clearly up to the Australians.
DEFENCE MINISTER FITZGIBBON: I'd like just to preface my answer by thanking Secretaries Clinton and Gates for making themselves available so early in the period of the new Administration. We had very fruitful discussions today. We appreciated it very much.
Look, we did have also a very productive discussion about Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of course, the discussion today gave both Minister Smith and I a greater appreciation of the new strategy and how it will work, and we again come out of the meeting with a conclusion that this is a good strategy, it's a welcome strategy, and Australia certainly supports that strategy.
Of course, we talked about what the partner nations more generally can do to further promote progress in Afghanistan. We talked about the military side. We talked about the civil side. We talked about the reconstruction side. From Australia's perspective, we would always, of course, consider any request from our closest and most important ally. The important thing from our perspective is: Would an additional contribution from us in concert with additional contributions from other partner nations further progress - further achieve a progress in Afghanistan and, on that basis, allow us all to go home sooner rather than later?
MR. WOOD: The next question will be from James Rosen of Fox News.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. A question for each of the American officials: Secretary Gates, on the day when the Obama Administration is announcing its request for $83 billion in supplemental war funding, I wonder what you make of the criticism that has arisen both specifically of this request, but more broadly of the President's expansion of the war by democratic lawmakers in Congress.
But first, Madame Secretary - (laughter) -
SECRETARY CLINTON: I was getting to feel left out, James.
QUESTION: Never. Just one day after the United States announced its latest overture to Iran, specifically the agreement of Ambassador Burns to sit in on all P-5+1 contacts with Iranians, the regime in Iran has made a huge display today of announcing that it is currently operating 7,000 centrifuges. That is approximately 1,500 more centrifuges than what IAEA nuclear inspectors claimed to have observed in February in their latest report. So first, do you believe this claim about 7,000 centrifuges, and do you see it as a rebuff?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, James, first of all, we don't know what to believe about the Iranian program. We've heard many different assessments and claims over a number of years. One of the reasons why we are participating in the P-5+1 is to enforce the international obligations that Iran should be meeting, to ensure that the IAEA is the source of credible information, because as you just pointed out, there is a great gap between what the IAEA observed about seven - six, seven weeks ago, and what the Iranians are now claiming. It would benefit the Iranians in our view if they cooperated with the international community, if they abided by a set of obligations and expectations that affect them, and by which we believe they are bound. And we're going to continue to insist on that.
We do not attribute any particular meaning with respect to the range of issues that we are looking to address with the Iranians from this particular statement.
SECRETARY GATES: I believe that there is very broad, bipartisan support in the Congress for the decisions the President has made with respect to both Iraq and Afghanistan. There's always a full range of views on the Hill, but I believe that the overwhelming majority approve of these decisions and the policies the President has approved.
Reality is, the alternative to the supplemental is a sudden and precipitous withdrawal from the United States of both places - from both places. And I don't know anybody who thinks that's a good idea. The reality is it would put everything we have achieved in Iraq at tremendous risk, and it would, I believe, greatly endanger our troops, some kind of a precipitous withdrawal. So I think the kind of timetable that the President has laid out in Iraq, I think the approach that he has taken in Afghanistan not only are the right ones, but I think they have very broad support. And all I can say is that I hope on behalf of both Secretary Clinton and myself that the Congress acts on the supplemental as quickly as possible.
MR. WOOD: The last question will come from Bernie Lagan of the Sydney Morning Herald.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yes, I have a question for Madame Secretary and Minister Smith. Given recent reports of cybersecurity issues related to China, issues with both our countries, are you considering putting those issues on the agenda in the trilateral security dialogue with Japan?
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: Well, can I say that when I'm asked about cybersecurity, I don't identify one particular incident, one country, or one threat. This is an issue which Australia has made it clear we address generally, and there are very strong references to the need to apply appropriate resources to protect against cybersecurity in our recent national security document. This is an issue which all modern nation-states confront. Other than very strongly supporting the ongoing trilateral security dialogue between Australia, the United States, and Japan, we haven't got to what might be on the agenda for that.
But can I say questions of information security have been the subject of discussion between Australia and Japan in the past. But cybersecurity is a growing issue of concern for all of us, for all nation-states, and that was certainly one of the matters that we spoke about today.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I have nothing to add to the minister's comment, other than to underscore how important this issue is, and it will deserve and receive a great deal of attention from both of our governments.
MR. WOOD: Thank you all very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
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