Australia-United States Ministerial (AUSMIN) joint press conference

  • Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd
  • Defence Minister Stephen Smith
  • US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  • US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

Government House, Melbourne

Subjects: AUSMIN outcomes, Afghanistan, Iran, China, Iraq, US Forces Posture Review

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

8 November 2010

KEVIN RUDD: First of all, could I say to both Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State how terrific it's been to have you here in Melbourne.

Back in Washington I said to both Hillary and [indistinct] intended to show you a good time in Australia. I hope we've delivered on that. Neither had been to the great city of Melbourne before. They've had a bit of time to get out and about and see this town and it's been fantastic to be here and the weather gods have smiled on us miraculously for three days.

Also the Secretary of State has been out and about with Australian students, the great forum yesterday at Melbourne University. Also we had an opportunity as four ministers yesterday to pay our respects to Australia's war dead at the Shrine of Remembrance and always a telling reminder of the ties that bind and those ties have often been purchased with the ultimate sacrifice.

Beyond that, of course, our principal purpose in being here is for AUSMIN itself, the 25th occasion on which we have met in this forum.

And as we approach the 60th anniversary of our Alliance and this year celebrate the 70th anniversary of our diplomatic relationship we had plenty to talk about, not just a rehearsal of past values and continuing values and common values, but also the application of this Alliance to our future challenges and opportunities in the region.

Together we reaffirmed our commitment to the ongoing international effort in Afghanistan. This is a tough fight but we are there as continuing and enduring and strong partners of the United States and our other NATO and ISAF allies.

We affirmed our support for Pakistan and given the challenges that that country faces but its critical relevance to what we are seeking to do together in Afghanistan itself.

We've expressed our deep concern for Iran's continuing nuclear program and we continue to monitor developments there closely.

In our region we've been reminded again today of some of the challenges which continue on the fundamental observance of human rights, the Burmese elections.

We are waiting to see what precisely is produced by way of results there. These elections have been far from free and far from fair. A number of democratic parties have participated and we will be watching very closely what emerges from the Burmese political process. The people of Burma deserve much better than the regime they have got.

Of course within our wider region we are committed to building a strong comprehensive and positive relationship with the People's Republic of China and I was in China myself recently and I know our American partners - counterparts have been there in recent times as well.

Elsewhere within the region we reaffirmed the importance and the strength of our continued security cooperation with Japan and the Republic of Korea and others in South East Asia.

These democracies within our region, these countries who have many common security interests with us, we are pursuing those interests together and in tandem with our Alliance with the United States.

Of course within our wider region what we have also discussed and affirmed in our communique together is how we now deploy the East Asian Summit which now includes the United States and Russia, to further develop our region's architecture. This is something which has been near and dear to Australia's heart for some time and we welcome the decision by the Government of the United States to join this regional institution.

It provides us with an opportunity to develop a regional set of rules and norms for security and political and wider behaviour within the East Asian region.

The architectural question has in many senses been delivered. Our challenge now is one of the evolving agenda of this body and how we make it work for the future so that all the countries of our region share a common rules based order and abide by those rules.

Finally, on the global front, we also discussed our continued challenges in the global economy, our continued cooperation as Australia and United States with the G20.

The Secretary of State in her remarks the other day spoke about the three "D's" of American foreign policy and broader security policy: defence, diplomacy and development.

Against each of those measures we in Australia are seeking to work as closely as we can with our American allies. The security relationship, the defence relationship speaks for itself. Our significant foreign policy and diplomatic footprints around the world and in the region work together.

But on the development front, as Secretary Clinton reminded us the other day, we are people of good heart and good spirit who seek to make the lot of humankind within our neighbourhood somewhat better.

That's what we're doing through our own increase and our own overseas development assistance program, but working increasingly in partnership with the USA. Getting these three things right is about how we actually shape the future together.

So Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, Stephen and I have been delighted to be able to host you to this 25th AUSMIN. You are, as you know, always welcome guests here in Australia and we look forward to this relationship continuing into the future at our next AUSMIN to be held in the United States.

HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Kevin, and thanks to you and Stephen and your respective teams for all the work and planning that went into this AUSMIN.

I think it is fair to say that both Secretary Gates and I deeply appreciate the warm welcome we have received and the continuing consultation and planning that is really at the core of our Alliance.

As Kevin said, we covered a very broad agenda as is the case when we have these annual meetings. A lot of work goes on between them so we were able to catch each other up on our respective perspectives and experience in the region and globally on the range of issues that Kevin just mentioned.

Our efforts to strengthen the regional architecture, the United States is joining the East Asia Summit and other connections from ASEAN and the regional forum to APEC are really in large measure a result of the excellent advice that we received from Kevin over the past 20 months.

Talking about individual situations from North Korea to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran; talking about the very important relationship that we each have with China and how best to proceed to ensure that it is a positive cooperative and comprehensive one.

Talking, too, about the importance of the security issues here in the Pacific, especially as they relate to our Pacific Island nation neighbours and friends, this was a broad far reaching and extremely valuable set of consultations.

We also were pleased finally to be able to tell our Australian friends that the Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty finally passed in the United States Congress. That was a major accomplishment and I can't help but say we now wait for it to pass in the Australian Parliament and then we could get about the business of working even more closely together.

So again, thank you, we look forward to hosting you next year.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much, Kevin. To Secretary of State Clinton, to Secretary of Defense, Gates, I join with Kevin in welcoming you officially to this year's AUSMIN consultations.

But also to say that we've had a most productive conversation in the course of the day, traversing the array of strategic interests and challenges that Australia and the United States face now and into the future.

Of course the Australia-US Alliance remains the bedrock of our strategic security and defence arrangements. We of course traversed Afghanistan and I simply say that we're very pleased with the way in which Australia and the United States are combining and operating very well on the ground in Uruzgan Province.

With the departure of the Dutch recently the reconfigured ISAF arrangement in Uruzgan is now the so-called Combined Team Uruzgan jointly partnered by Australia and the United States and we're very pleased with that progress.

Kevin referred to the regional architecture and the future accession to the East Asia Summit of the United States and Russia. Bob and I were recently in Hanoi where at Defence Ministers' level the same arrangement occurred for the first time - the so-called ASEAN Plus Defence Ministers, which saw the United States and Russia attending that meeting. So both in the economic prosperity and in the defence space the regional architecture is now, in Australia's view, set up for the future.

In terms of Alliance cooperation and defence matters we spoke about the United States Force Posture Review, which has not yet been concluded.

We will continue to be in consultation with the United States in the course of that Force Posture Review and in due course see what implications, if any, arise for Australia. Both the Foreign Minister and I have made it very clear over the last couple of days that of course we welcome very much the ongoing operational arrangement that we have with the United States, whether that is through our joint facilities or whether that is through visits and access to facilities. As for any future enhancement of that we will make that judgment once the Force Posture Review has itself been delivered but we will continue to be in very close contact in that respect.

Having said that we welcome very much the United States enhanced engagement in the Asia Pacific region and we see the Force Posture Review as adding to that enhanced engagement.

In the materials that you've been distributed you will also see that we have made progress in two of the challenges of this Century - newly emerging challenges - both in cooperation in space surveillance and space situational awareness and also in the area of cyber and cyber attacks.

We also, as Secretary of State Clinton has said, welcome very much the fact that the Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty has passed through the United States Congress. Our timetable is to endeavour to have legislation into the first Parliamentary session of next year.

We're very keen, urged on by Ambassador Beazley, to put ourselves in a legislative position to ratify the treaty. We are of course only the second nation, after the United Kingdom, in respect of which such a treaty will exist and we welcome that very much.

Secretary of Defense Gates and I have also formally exchanged letters on the full knowledge and concurrent arrangement so far as the Harold E Holt Communication Station is concerned. There is no change in substance.

These reflect for the future the arrangements that have been in place for some time but we welcome that, which reflects the ongoing nature of the joint facilities in Australia so far as Australia and the United States is concerned.

Thank you.

ROBERT GATES: First of all I would like to join Secretary Clinton in thanking Foreign Minister Rudd and Defence Minister Smith for hosting us here today in Melbourne. This is the third opportunity I've had as Secretary of Defense to participate in the Australia-United States ministerial and my second visit to Australia for AUSMIN.

These gatherings, now in their 25th year, reflect the continued strength of our Alliance and provide an important forum to advance our many shared interests.

In the defence arena our ties are long standing and deep. American and Australian forces have fought side by side in every major conflict over the past century, including the war in Afghanistan, a focus of our discussion today.

Australia's efforts in Uruzgan province, including taking full responsibility for training the Afghan force brigade are making a real difference on the ground and helping put Afghanistan on a path to providing for its own security.

The United States Government, and I would say the American people, are keenly aware of the price Australia has paid as the largest non-NATO contributor of combat troops.

Last night Secretary Clinton and I were honoured to participate with Kevin and Stephen in a wreath laying ceremony at the Shrine of Remembrance here in Melbourne, an enduring emblem of the sacrifices made by Australian troops and their families over the past century.

Yet even as we re-affirm our strong shared commitment to Afghanistan, today we also discussed our cooperation across a range of other issues to ensure that with our combined military capabilities we will be ready to address the new security challenges in the years to come.

To this end we discussed efforts to enhance our presence and posture in the Pacific and how we can work together to do this more effectively as the United States Department of Defense begins discussions with allies on our global posture review.

Today we agreed to create a bi-lateral Force Posture Working Group to begin developing options for enhanced joint defence cooperation on Australian soil. We are also working hand in hand to enhance cooperation between our two nations in emerging domains such as space and cyber space.

The Space Situational Awareness Partnership Statement of Principle signed today, for example, will lead to greater cooperation between our militaries in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

This Alliance has never been more important and the ties between our two nations and our two militaries, bonds of a shared culture, interests and values, give me great confidence that we stand ready to confront the challenges of this new century as we have in the past. Thank you.

KEVIN RUDD: I'll take the first question. Could I add one personal note? And that is how delighted we were yesterday to participate at a ceremony here in Government House to have extended the Honorary Order of Australia in the Military Division to Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mike is an extraordinary leader in the US military. He's become an extraordinary friend of Australia. As we said to Mike last night, we don't give these things out every day. We extend them to people whose contribution to our common cause, our common values, and to this nation is a decision which reflects the high regard with which the Admiral is held.

Now, questions. I think, Heather, you have a question.

QUESTION: Thank you. Heather Ewart, ABC Television, and my question is directed to Secretary of State. In the work that went on here this morning, have you been mapping out an exit strategy for Afghanistan and what conditions would have to be set for this?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well to the contrary, we are in agreement that the strategy that we are implementing together in Afghanistan is the right strategy and that we are committed to pursuing that strategy and being very conscious of the challenges that it poses to us.

We are, at this point in our analysis, satisfied with how it is proceeding. We have said from the very beginning that the goal is to be able to transition security to the Afghans themselves starting next year. But that transition will be conditions based and will be determined as the analysis of our commanders in the field suggests to the civilian leadership in both of our countries.

It is really important to underscore that the progress that we believe is occurring is very challenging. It takes patience; it requires all of us to understand that this is a tough fight that we're in. But we're convinced that starting next year, there will be parts of Afghanistan that will be under the control of the Afghan Government and its security forces.

We can't stand here today and tell you when or on what timetable or any of the details because we will be making those assessments based on the conditions as they occur.

KEVIN RUDD: Thanks very much. If I could have a question now from one of our American colleagues.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. My question's for Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now saying only credible military threat can deter Iran from building a nuclear weapon. Do you agree with him?

How long can the United States expect Israel to wait for sanctions that have so far failed to stop Tehran's nuclear program? And lastly, would you accept Iran's request to hold nuclear talks this month in Turkey? Thank you.

ROBERT GATES: Well first of all, the President has said repeatedly that when it comes to Iran, all options are on the table. And we are doing what we need to do to ensure that he has those options.

That said, we are convinced that non-military actions including most significantly the most recent UN Security Council resolution and the individual countries' approval of even more rigorous sanctions including, I might say, Australia, is bringing pressure to bear on the Iranian Government that is getting their attention.

We know that they are concerned about the impact of the sanctions. The sanctions are biting more deeply than they anticipated and we are working very hard at this. So I would say that I disagree that only a credible military threat can get Iran to take the actions that it needs to to end its nuclear weapons program.

We are prepared to do what is necessary, but at this point, we continue to believe that the political economic approach that we are taking is in fact having an impact in Iran.

HILLARY CLINTON: And I agree with Bob's description and I would only add that the so-called P5 Plus One has offered to meet with Iran concerning its nuclear program. The Iranians have reached back out and said they would be willing to meet, but so far as I know, there is not yet any date or time for that meeting.

But they know where they should be directing their response - that's to Cathy Ashton - the High Representative of the European Union. But certainly, we've made it clear we would welcome a return to the negotiating table.

KEVIN RUDD: Can I now ask for a question, I think, from Sabra Lane from the ABC?

QUESTION: Brendan Nicholson from The Australian, to Secretary Clinton and Secretary...

KEVIN RUDD: Brendan, sorry, I'm badly briefed. Over to you, mate.

QUESTION: That's good, thanks. Secretary Clinton or Secretary Gates, China largely escaped the impact of the Global Financial Crisis and while many countries have been winding back on investment in their defence apparatus, China's been investing heavily in its armed forces.

To what extent is the United States' consolidation of relationships in this region and your concerns about cyber security a consequence of these developments with China and are you concerned about any backlash from China?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well first, the United States has a long presence in the Asia-Pacific. We've been here for 100 years. I think our fleet came in 1908, as I recall, at the direction of President Teddy Roosevelt and had a good time. And we...

QUESTION: [Indistinct]

HILLARY CLINTON: Yeah [laughs]. And so, you know, we've been here, we are here and we will be here. The United States is both a Pacific and an Atlantic power and if there were any question or doubt about our intentions, I hope that the last 20 months of the Obama Administration has put those finally to rest.

This is my sixth trip to the region. The President is on his second trip as we speak, currently in India. And just as with any Alliance or any force posture, we have to be constantly evaluating are we prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. And that is the process that we are going through along with our colleagues from Australia and others in the region.

But we are determined to strengthen and deepen our already strong alliances with countries like Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, to build relationships bi-laterally and multi-laterally with other nations to work through these regional organisations. To solve problems, like maintaining the freedom of navigation and maritime security that is essential to trade and commerce throughout the region.

And we have a very robust dialogue with China where we discuss, you know, many of the matters that are of importance to both of us bi-laterally and our position regionally and globally.

And the United States has consistently said that we welcome the economic success of China, the positive effects that it is having on the Chinese people. As China becomes more of a player in regional and global affairs then we expect that China will be a responsible player and will participate in the international framework of rules that govern the way nations' behave and conduct themselves.

So we have - we're not doing anything differently in any significant degree. We are merely taking stock of what we're going to be needing to do in the future, so that we are well-prepared and working closely with our friends and allies.

ROBERT GATES: I haven't got a thing to add to that.

KEVIN RUDD: What's that?

ROBERT GATES: I haven't got a thing to add to that.

[Laughter]

KEVIN RUDD: I thought that's what you said, but I thought I should check.

One further question for our American friends.

QUESTION: This is for Secretary Clinton. Is it your understanding that there is a power-sharing agreement in Iraq where Talabani would stay on as President, Maliki as Prime Minister and the [indistinct] Iraqi Coalition would be offered the post of Speaker. And does this mean that the Iraqis have finally found a way to manage their ethnic rivalries and produce a functioning government?

HILLARY CLINTON: [Laughs], until a deal and government formation is actually announced by the Iraqis themselves, I am not going to comment, or respond. Probably over the course of the last eight months we've had many indications that they were close to an agreement. They were on the brink of government formation. They'd worked out their power-sharing arrangements only - not to see that come to fruition.

But it is fair to say that we have been consistently urging the Iraqis to have an inclusive government that reflects the interests and needs of the various segments of the population, that there had to be legitimate power-sharing amongst different groups and individuals.

And that is what we hope at the end of this process, and we hope we are near the end of it, will be the result of all of their negotiation.

KEVIN RUDD: [Indistinct]

QUESTION: This is to you, Secretary Clinton and also to Secretary Gates.

Secretary Clinton, how would you characterise the significance of these talks that you've held today? And in regards to the Force Posture Review, you hinted at yesterday that you'd like to pre-deploy equipment here in Australia. What kind of equipment are you talking about? How soon might that possibly happen? And does that involve a permanent presence of US troops with that equipment?

And to Secretary Gates. About the Space Awareness Program, obviously the preference, it sounds like, is to place something at [indistinct]. How soon would you like to see those radars in place? And specifically we're not talking just about space junk and satellites, but obviously keeping track of missiles. And that some actions that might be mistaken as attempts by foes to, you know, for acts that aren't seen in a good manner.

HILLARY CLINTON: Let me answer the first part of your question. But the second part and this last question Bob should answer.

The first part is: how would I characterise these talks? I would characterise them as extremely productive, constructive, very warm and practical.

We not only spoke about many of the issues we each see in the region, as well as globally, but what we're going to do about them. How are we going to work together? What more we need to do in order to come to some recommendations about the way forward.

I have to commend both Kevin and Stephen because they think hard and very well about these difficult issues. And so for Bob and me, this is an ongoing conversation. We just hold a public event like this once a year, but we're in constant contact back and forth all the time, about what we see happening and the progress that we're making on the various issues that we're addressing.

So I have a very high regard for both ministers, a deep appreciation for Australia's strong diplomatic defence and development capacity and I feel extremely satisfied at the outcome of this particular meeting.

ROBERT GATES: With respect to Force Posture. First of all we have, as a result of this meeting, established this Force Posture Working Group that will address the very issues you've asked about and to look at the array of enhanced joint activities we might be able to undertake.

Beyond that, I would say speculation is way premature because I have not even made decisions within the Department of Defense on what I'm going to recommend to our own National Security Council and the President, that we do in Asia. Except to say, that the one thing I believe we all agree on, is we are looking at an enhanced presence for the United States in Asia and not some kind of cutback.

We, as Secretary Clinton said, we are a Pacific power, we have re-engaged in a major way and now we are looking at the next steps and that.

With respect to the radars, we will begin discussions on this, that it clearly does cover space debris and a low and middle earth orbit, space junk as well as satellites and so on. We will be exploring [indistinct] mutual benefit. And those discussions won't even begin until, I think, January.

KEVIN RUDD: Thanks for very much for that.

For those in the broader community who ask questions about what an Alliance is, I think from our point of view in Australia it's pretty simple.

An Alliance is a relationship between friends who share common values, who stand by each other through thick and thin. That's the history of this Alliance and it's the future of this Alliance.

To Hillary and to Bob, safe travels. Hillary's going back stateside, Bob to Western Australia with Stephen, I think. Is that right?

HILLARY CLINTON: [Indistinct].

ROBERT GATES: I wish.

KEVIN RUDD: He's not. He's going back state-side as well. Misrepresentation, he's heading back as well. Thank you very much...

HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much.

KEVIN RUDD: ....for being in our country and we'll see you in the States next year.

HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you.

END

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