U.S. Security Talks with Australia, Japan To Intensify, Rice Says

A trilateral security discussion among the United States, Australia and Japan that first was initiated in August 2002 will be intensified and elevated to the foreign ministerial level, according to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer spoke to reporters after a May 4 meeting at the State Department.  They said they had agreed to join their Japanese counterpart, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, in the upgraded discussion, which will cover a broad range of regional and global security issues, including nuclear nonproliferation and reconstruction in Iraq. 

For nearly three years, the talks have been held at a vice-ministerial level.  

"We agreed today that we will intensify our dialogue," Rice said.  "This will be sustained over time at the level of political directors, but it will give us an opportunity - the foreign ministers - to get together periodically to discuss the many issues of interest that we have in the Asia Pacific region, but also global issues of interest."

Asked about the arrest of Abu Farraj al-Libbi, a senior al-Qaida leader who allegedly carried out two assassination attempts against the president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, in December 2003, Rice declined to provide specific details, but congratulated Pakistani authorities on the arrest. 

"Pakistan has yet again demonstrated the tremendous commitment of President Musharraf and of the Pakistani forces to the war on terrorism," she said.  "[T]his is a major victory."

Following is a transcript of Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Downer's remarks  

Office of the Spokesman
May 4, 2005


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice And Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer After Their Meeting

May 4, 2005
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, D.C.

(1:30 p.m. EDT)

SECRETARY RICE:  Good afternoon.  I'm delighted to welcome Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, a good friend.  We've met on a number of occasions before but I believe this is the first time that we've had a chance to meet since I've been Secretary of State here in Washington.  And we've covered a full range of issues.  Of course, the United States has no better friend than Australia, a friend allied with us in the war on terrorism, allied with us in the spread of democracy and prosperity, a country with which we recently have a free trade agreement, which I think is serving both countries well.

We agreed today that we will intensify our dialogue, and indeed in a trilateral manner with our Japanese colleague, Mr. Machimura, by creating a trilateral strategic dialogue at the level of foreign minister.  This will be sustained over time at the level of political directors but it will give us an opportunity - the foreign ministers - to get together periodically to discuss the many issues of interest that we have in the Asia Pacific region but also global issues of interest.

So, Alexander, welcome.  I think we had very good talks and if you'd like to make a few remarks, and then we'll take questions.

FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER:  Well, thanks, Condi, very much.  I've enjoyed the opportunity to meet with the new Secretary of State in that capacity for the first time.  Obviously, I had a lot to do with her as the National Security Advisor before and I don't think there's any doubt that our relationship with the United States is in a very sound state.  We work together very closely on counterterrorism issues in particular, of course, in Southeast Asia.  We are working side by side in Iraq, helping to bring freedom and democracy to that country.  And by the way, I'm very appreciative of the support the United States is giving us at this moment as we endeavor to try to release an Australian hostage, Douglas Wood, in Iraq.  And the United States' contribution to helping us is obviously enormously important and they've been very committed.

We're very pleased to see the upgrading of the trilateral security dialogue between Australia, the United States and Japan and I look forward very much to participating in this dialogue with Condi and also with Foreign Minister Machimura from Japan, who I spoke to also earlier this week.  Australia, the United States and Japan are all liberal democracies and we're all developed economies and we're all determined to continue to work together for a stable, secure Asia Pacific region and I think this trilateral security dialogue at ministerial level is a good initiative and we look forward to participating in it.  But otherwise, I appreciate the strong cooperation of the United States across a wide range of areas and appreciate very much Secretary Rice hosting my visit.


QUESTION:  Secretary Rice, quickly on the arrest and detention in Pakistan, I don't believe this fellow was ever listed on your rewards program and yet a lot is being said at the White House how important this arrest is.  What is the significance of this detention, please?

SECRETARY RICE:  I think that over the next couple of days we will be able to describe that this is a truly significant arrest.  This is, we believe, a kind of - one of those important field generals in the al-Qaida organization.  The Pakistanis are to be congratulated for the hard work that they did.  Of course, we've been cooperating with them, but the Pakistanis, as we've been saying, have been really stalwart in the war on terrorism.  They've been fighting in parts of Pakistan that have not been even open to Pakistani forces for a very long time.  And so this is a great victory for them, it's a great victory in the war on terrorism.

And, Barry, I'll leave it to others to describe, but I can tell you that this is somebody that we watched a lot every single day, those of us who have been very involved in the war on terrorism; a very important figure for the al-Qaida network.

QUESTION:  I was wondering if perhaps you could give us an update on the Australian hostage and whether you've heard anything from the team that's in Iraq and could you perhaps give us a sketch of the kind of cooperation between Australia and the U.S. in the search for him?

FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER:  Sure.  There isn't a great deal of additional information that I have today to add to what I said last night.  The family have now made an appeal for the release of Douglas Wood through Al-Jazeera.  And we, by the way, appreciate the assistance that the Australian ABC have provided to make that possible.  I just want to make that point on the record.  I think the appeal by the family can be helpful and the fact is that Douglas Wood is a 63-year-old, he's got significant health problems in particular has a very weak heart but also has other health problems.  And he does have a family and the family really cares about him and they miss him and they want him back.  And so I think it's been good that the family has made this appeal.  I think that's an important effort.

On the ground, the response team is getting excellent cooperation.  Well - to focus on the United States, there are all sorts of different ways the Americans can assist in providing information to the team.  I guess I'll just put it to you that way.  And they are being completely cooperative.  They're working with the Iraqis, they're meeting with the Iraqi Government.  They're also working with a number of a other countries, as we are through our diplomatic missions as well, and that includes countries like Italy and UK, Turkey, France.  In some cases, these countries have experience of hostages being taken themselves and are able to pass that on and give us more information about leads that we can follow.

At this stage, though we haven't tracked down where Douglas Wood is, and we'll continue to work on that.  We'll be fairly cautious, though, let me say, from now on in giving a running commentary on how the operation is going because I think - I think you'll understand that it's important that we remain pretty discreet about the details of how we're handling this.  Rest assured, there is nothing at this stage which is diminishing our determination to get Douglas Wood released.  We are utterly determined to get him released.  It may be difficult, but we will - we're putting everything we possibly can into it and we've far from given up hope.

QUESTION:  If I could ask one more question about the capture of Abu Farraj al-Libbi?  What role, if any, did the United States play?  You said that the U.S. has been cooperating with Pakistan, but if you could be more specific.

SECRETARY RICE:  I think I will not get into operational details of how this was done.  The Pakistanis - this is Pakistani territory.  The Pakistanis are to be congratulated for what they did here.  Obviously, we are close allies with Pakistan in terms of all kinds of information sharing and the like and we are very close allies whenever something like this comes along.  It's because there's a coalition effort to achieve something like this.  But let's keep the focus on the fact that Pakistan has yet again demonstrated the tremendous commitment of President Musharraf and of the Pakistani forces to the war on terrorism and I can only tell you that this is a major victory.

QUESTION:  Either of you, could you give us some idea of what sort of areas these trilateral talks will cover?  I mean, what are the sort of issues that these three countries will discuss?  Is China one of them?

SECRETARY RICE:  Do you want to start?

FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER:  Well, we would - we've already had for some period of time now - I'm trying to recall, it must be about three years - lower level trilateral security dialogue; that is, is at the level of, in Australian terms the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in American terms the Deputy Secretary of State and in Japanese terms the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs.  So these talks have focused, obviously, first and foremost on regional security issues so the whole range of regional security issues inevitably are discussed.  There are no issues that we would foresee being off limits in a discussion between allies.

At the same time, we will, no doubt, be discussing other broader global issues that we're involved in, particularly of a security nature.  I mean, and there's no better example of that than Iraq, where we are providing protection for the Japanese in Iraq and working, of course, alongside the Americans in that environment.  So there will be wide-ranging talks on global, but also, of course, significantly regional security issues.

SECRETARY RICE:  I would expect, for instance, that proliferation issues will be high on the agenda.  We cooperate together on the Proliferation Security Initiative.  Australia has been supportive of the efforts that we have been making to try and deal with the various proliferation problems in the region, like the North Korean problem.  We, of course, are looking at a region that is changing a great deal.  Part of that, obviously, is China, but there are other changes that are going on in the region as well and I'm certain that we will have discussions.

And we have great cooperation, security and military cooperation, across a broad range of issues.  And some of that was put to very good use, for instance, when we were able to respond rapidly to the tsunami using our Core Group.  So this can span a full range of issues, but let me just underscore something that Alexander has said.  We've had these talks going on for a number of years.  We just feel that bringing them up to the level of foreign minister allows us to have more direct discussion of some of the political elements of these so that we can give better guidance to our security issues and concerns.

Thank you very much.  Thank you.