Subject: AUS/TLGOV: Joint Press Conference with Horta & Downer
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: August 11 2004 TITLE: Joint Press Conference with East Timor Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta
DOWNER: Ladies and gentlemen, I hope we’re more or less on time. Question time finished slightly later than we had expected. I want to say what a pleasure it has been to have my old friend, Jose Ramos Horta here with me today in Canberra. I invited him quite a few weeks ago now to come down here and have a further talk about the Timor Sea issue.
Just to put this into some perspective, Jose and I with officials and others negotiated the Timor Sea treaty under which we - he did very well in those negotiations. He got ninety per cent of the revenue from the joint development area, and I got ten per cent.
We also negotiated the international unitisation agreement for the Greater Sunrise field, and that has been signed, it’s been ratified here, and we hope will be ratified before long in East Timor by the East Timor parliament. And today, we’ve had a further discussion, because we met together in Jakarta in - I guess - in June. We’ve briefly met in Bangkok as well a couple of weeks - three or four weeks ago. But we’ve had yet a further discussion about the other East Timor-Australia Timor Sea issues.
We’ve had a very good discussion. I would say a very successful discussion. I think, as a result of these discussions, we can find a way through which will be beneficial to the people of East Timor, but will also be satisfactory as far as the Australian people are concerned. Both of us agree that given that we are now getting much closer to agreement on the framework for a settlement, if not the details of a settlement, that we can move the negotiations forward somewhat faster. And we’ll certainly be endeavouring to try to wind up the negotiations by the end of this calendar year - by - well, realistically, by Christmas time. There’s no guarantee we’ll be able to do that. But given the direction of our talks today, and the goodwill there is between the two of us, which there always has been, I think that we can take this forward more quickly now.
I think, you know, for the benefit of the Australian media here, I should say that I have come to the conclusion that people in the Labor Party have persuaded Mr Latham the policy he enunciated of starting the negotiations all over again if Labor was to win the election isn’t really workable. And I’m glad, from what I understand, that the Labor Party’s abandoned that position. That makes it easier, of course, for us to go ahead with, not just the next round of talks in September, but to try to finalise things by the end of the year. It will be an agreement that, in the end, will, I think - from what we’ve discussed today, will satisfy some of the legal issues that we’re concerned about, and it’ll be an agreement that I’m sure will be very beneficial to the government and the people - particularly to the people really of East Timor, whose long term interests are - not just whose short term interests are important - but whose long terms interests are critically important. Now, we’re not going to go into all of the details, which, of course, you’d love us to do, because we really want to, you know, be able to negotiate these things privately. But as you can tell from what I’m saying and from my manner, I feel we’ve really made some extremely good progress today and we’re absolutely heading in the right direction. Jose.
JOSE RAMOS HORTA EAST TIMOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER: Alexander, thank you very much for receiving me and the rest of my delegation today. As Alexander Downer mentioned, we met in Jakarta end of June on the sidelines of the ASEAN ministerial meeting, and decide to explore, you know, creative ideas that would reserve the fundamental interests of each country, that would look also into the benefits that are very, very important, particularly for our - the people of Timor Leste, the people of East Timor.
I share, obviously, the optimism of Alexander Downer that we could make significant progress in the next few weeks and months. By the end of the year, we could have a comprehensive agreement that will be beneficial for the two countries. Fundamentally, there is a political good… political will, determination on the two sides to work constructively, creatively, pragmatically, to bring benefits to the two countries. Before I came, I had … and before the departure of my Prime Minister, Dr Mari Alkatiri, to Athens to attend the Olympic Games … we have two athletes there, which can be very disturbing news for Australian athletes because we will have some tough competitors in Athens. And in …
DOWNER: Not swimmers, I hope.
RAMOS HORTA: Not swimmers. Fortunately for Australia, we don’t have any swimmers. We have two marathon competitors. And I also met with my president just the day before I left and both two senior leaders of the country have expressed … asked me to convey to Alexander Downer our firm commitment to find a solution that is satisfactory to the two sides.
As Alexander mentioned, you know, we cannot … I cannot elaborate on details. We will continue to talk in the next few weeks to work out the details of what this arrangement that so … is so satisfactory to all of us. We have the basic ideas, basic … we have I think can meet half way in the basic approach and now we just need to work out the details.
DOWNER: Okay, if you have any questions we’re obviously happy to do our best to answer.
REPORTER: Can you just clarify what you want … you believe (indistinct) …
DOWNER: Exactly. I think on the basis of our discussions today it’s fair to say that we’re getting to the point where we now understand the framework of what an agreement can look like, but … and I'm not going to use this as an opportunity to rehearse the respective positions of our two countries. But in any case, you know, we have some broad legal issues that we’re very concerned about in the context of these negotiations, less financial issues than broader legal issues. And from East Timor’s point of view I suppose it’s fair to say that legal issues are an important component of their claims but the long-term issue for East Timor is the contribution the Timor Sea can make to the development of the country. So we need to reconcile those respective concerns but you see, aren’t identical concerns. In other words, I think this might be a good way of putting it. Our concerns being a prosperous country, our concerns are less with the revenue we can extract from the Timor Sea than with the broader questions of sovereignty. For the Timorese the issues of sovereignty of course aren’t unimportant but the question of how much revenue East Timor is able to extract from the Timor Sea is a very important issue for a country which is new, has got a very low per capita GDP and has to build a broader economic base. Not only of course just a resources base but - so this fact that we approach this issue from slightly different angles in a way makes it a little easier for us to work our way through it.
So I think we’re at the point now where we can see a broad framework of what we could achieve and bearing that in mind, no doubt there’ll be endless argy-bargy about the details in the next few weeks. But given that we’re heading towards a broad - to use the East Timorese word creative framework, I think it’s doable. Not to guarantee that we can do it but it’s doable by the end of the year. And it would be good if we could do that, if we can have a Christmas present for everybody, that - for all the people of East Timor and a slightly smaller and more modest Christmas present for the people of Australia.
REPORTER: Now, is this framework likely to lead to an increase in East Timor’s share of the gas resources of the Timor Sea overall?
DOWNER: Well, I'm not going to go into that. I mean, as you know, this is a negotiation where you begin a negotiation. I've been to a few in eight and a half years as a foreign minister. You begin the negotiation by identifying what your positions are and then, you know, we need to work through the two positions understanding the two perspectives. I think what I’d put it to you is this, we’ve come a very long way today in terms of - well, we certainly would have understood each other’s perspectives for quite some time but finding a way of accommodating each other’s perspectives. And bearing that in mind, but we think that in principle they can be accommodated; we need to start working on the details.
REPORTER: Well, do you expect Mr … Dr Alkatiri to cease his strident criticism of your position on this issue as a result of today’s meeting?
DOWNER: Well, I haven’t really thought about it from the context of today’s meeting. I don’t - I've said this before - I don’t encourage strident criticism of Australia or for that matter even of my own humble self. That’s less important whether people criticise me, but criticism of Australia and - usually it doesn’t connect with the Australian people. So I think we, you know, we’ve made good progress and we just need to keep building on the good progress we’ve made today.
REPORTER: It’s such a quantum shift in (indistinct). What was the breakthrough. What was the light bulb moment?
DOWNER: Well yes, light bulb moments aren’t quite what - it’s a good question - light bulb moments aren’t quite what it’s about. Remember, we know each other extremely well. We’ve been through some extraordinary times together over quite some years, basically pretty well though. And we - I think the talk we had in Jakarta was very helpful, because although it was - how would you say, it was robust, we nevertheless, I think, were able to do a bit of a stock take there, which has led to the emergence of a framework for how this can be solved. I mean, on the East Timorese side I think they’ve, as time’s gone on, been thinking more about what they call creative solutions and we’re all in favour of honest and honourable and legal, creative solutions as well. So, this is something that hasn’t come in a light bulb moment. This is something that’s evolved and today is a big moment because today is where we, I think, are getting the framework together.
REPORTER: (Indistinct) would be a fair description of this creativity that you are prepared to give Australia something it wants in terms of a line on a map but you expect Australia to give more of the catch. Is that a way of describing this creativity?
RAMOS HORTA: Well, I would say nice try. But I will not enter into details. These details have to wait for the next few weeks. I only would like to say, you know, I have told my compatriot colleagues in Dili a few times, but (indistinct) those who are surprised or sometimes not pleased with the robust manner how Alexander Downer defends his country’s interests. I always say, well he’S the Foreign Minister of Australia. He is not the foreign minister of East Timor and therefore it’s very legitimate. But at the same time we have to appreciate the fact that, at least in my many years dealing with Alexander Downer and with many other Australians, they tell you upfront what they feel, what they think. They don’t beat around the bush with yes, but no, no, but yes, and you don’t know exactly where they stand. So we are able to understand exactly Australia’s position. Australia is able to understand our concerns and are still neighbours, still friends. And Timor Leste, East Timor cannot also forget the fact that they … we have a lot of friends in this country. Australia shouldered the burden in ’99 of the … ending the violence in Timor Leste and have been a leading campaigner for Timor Leste. Just the other day in Dili I was briefing some of my colleagues not to forget because many do not know of the nuances of the details, that every time we’ve needed an extension of our security council mandate, in the last four years or so Australia was always there, the one that took the leadership in talking to different countries, to the US to the UK.
So this is a very, very important relationship for Timor Leste and my president, prime minister, everyone; the parliament understand that. This being so, it will be surprising that we cannot find, you know, a compromise, a meeting of the minds, to address this issue.
So I think now the climate, the ideas are there; strong will on the part of my president, prime minister, and on the part of Prime Minister Howard and Alexander Downer to really work out a comprehensive arrangement that would be satisfactory to all of us.
REPORTER: (Indistinct) no longer maintain that Australia’s attempting to steal food from the mouths of starving East Timorese children?
RAMOS HORTA: Sorry, what are you saying?
REPORTER: The claim has been made …
DOWNER: (Indistinct) The Age.
REPORTER: Sorry, people were saying - that East Timorese (indistinct) that during the robust discussions suggested that food would be stolen from the mouths of starving East Timorese children by Australia’s stance. Would you now back away from those sorts of allegations?
RAMOS HORTA: Well, I’ve been saying all along for a long time my days of shouting in the street ended more or less in ’99. And once East Timor is free and I’m in the government I have to look at the broader picture, the broader relationship with Australia and any country. And what I learned also in individual relationship, you don’t gain much by putting objectives before the name of an individual. And you gain more this way, so - on the other hand I have … I (indistinct) … I’ve said in my own country repeatedly, not only now, many months ago in the parliament, in print media, television … and saying that when we speak or categorise about another country, particularly a friend and neighbour like Australia, we have also to be careful about the consequence of what we say because the common people in the street, they might take it seriously and then you create a general sentiment of hostility towards a particular community. That is not in our interests, it’s not fair and it’s not in our interests. If Australians were to feel a certain kind of hostility, well, we will not have too many Australians visiting us. So … and we … so these, I think acrimonious voice I think have ended. I'm sure you haven’t heard anymore interesting quotes coming out of East Timor in this regard.
REPORTER: Mr Ramos Horta, when will East Timor ratify the Sunrise treaty?
RAMOS HORTA: I hope that in the context of this framework, general framework, before the end of the year we should be able to also obviously necessarily address this issue.
REPORTER: Mr Ramos Horta, what do you have to …
REPORTER: But what you're saying …
REPORTER: … what do you have to say to the Labor Opposition … (indistinct) the federal Opposition here in Australia. What is your message to the federal Opposition in Australia after these talks today?
RAMOS HORTA: Well, A … let me say, here in Australia we love everybody. We love Labor, we love John Howard and Alexander …
DOWNER: You love Labor?
RAMOS HORTA: We love Bob Brown, we love …everybody. And particularly in an election year, you know, I know Australia (indistinct) well, you will not catch me to say something that can be used by one side or another.
REPORTER: What is your response to a letter written by the forty-three Australians criticising the government position in Iraq?
RAMOS HORTA: Well, I have not read the letter carefully myself. But I have spoken out. So this is a total separate issue. I have written, spoken, contributed to a chapter of a book that came out a few months ago, an article in Wall Street journal only two months ago on this issue. So I'm not responding to them because I have not read it, and the article … I should not be responding to them.
My overall position is it, over many years, not totally on the question of Iraq. You know, let Australia … when Julius Nyerere of Tanzania sent his troops into Uganda and ended the despotic rule of Idi Amin, I applauded. That was some twenty years ago. When the Vietnamese troops entered Phnom Penh in 1979, ended the rule of genocide Khmer Rouge, I applauded. I applauded NATO intervention in Kosovo and I was the only Noble Laureate in a debate in Oslo broadcast live by CNN with all the Noble laureates there who applauded US-led or the security council authorised intervention in Afghanistan. And I know many Iraqis, I know many Kurdish. If ever … if any time at all in history, in history, the Kurdish are free, it is in Iraq. You ask the Kurdish. And I know countless numbers of them over the years. I don’t care much about the weapons of mass destruction and I tell you, back a few years ago I was telling America how stupid the whole debate about whether weapons of mass destruction exist or do not exist.
The question is, in this twenty-first century, should the world communities sit by and allow an individual like Saddam Hussein to continue to proclaim himself as leader, head of state. What does it tell about the notion, the concept of state and head of state?
So for me the question is, in this twenty-first century you allow someone who use chemical, biological weapons, waged two wars, destroyed two countries Iran and Kuwait repressed his people. This for me is the essence of the debate.
Saddam Hussein is out. Well, I am very happy. And in spite of … amidst all the bad news you see on television, rightly, I see many other flourishing, terrific good news coming out of Iraq. Eight hundred NGOs in Iraq, civil society. Political parties, right now, some nine hundred one thousand people, local officials being elected. Fantastic debate in Iraq. Is this flourishing democracy that extremists, the fundamentalists tried to stop. That’s for me - that is the debate.
REPORTER: The failure of the Indonesian courts to put any Indonesian military officer in jail for war crimes in East Timor. What does that say about the Indonesian process and would Australia and East Timor support the calls now coming for the creation by the UN of a war crimes tribunal?
RAMOS HORTA: My government does not support the establishment of an international tribunal for East Timor. We are working with the Secretary General of the UN and we then (indistinct) to find a way that justice can be addressed, that injustice can be redressed. Of course, it is very disappointing the results … the decision of the Supreme Court in Indonesia. It does no good for Indonesia’s own interests. Indonesia will have a serious credibility issue now with the US Congress, the European parliament, the European Union, and many other countries. But the same time, we are East Timor. We have the best possible relationship with Indonesia. We have also look at the broader picture. Is a struggling democracy like ours. They have done fantastic things in the last few years in trying to (indistinct) their democracy. There are many flaws in … and particularly, in the judiciary. And we are friends, neighbours, Indonesia, we are going to create further progress to the president. Because at the end of the day, if we push for international tribunal it might happen, it might not . But it could be manipulated by different forces in Indonesia, and there will be a backlash, not only against East Timor, against (indistinct), will be against the sitting president. This is what we want?
So, for me, philosophically (indistinct), the greatest act of justice for us, for a country that has occupied for twenty-four years, is today we are free. This is the greater act of justice.
So, we’re working with the Secretary-General to try to find some way out of this, that will do some justice to the victims. But an international tribunal, no.
DOWNER: We have always said, it’s a very important principle that my predecessor Gareth Evans applied in relation to Cambodia, by the way too, that the first group of people you listen to in these type of situations - you can say this for Iraq, by the way as well, are the local people, the people most directly affected. We can all act to have an impact, and we obviously did in the case of East Timor through ’98, especially through ’99. But let us listen to the voices of the local people, and in this particular case, we respect very much the views of the East Timorese people and the East Timorese government as their representative of a democratically elected government on how best to handle this. And so, we sort of have - our approach has not been to lecture the East Timorese and tell them what we think is the right way to go on what is a difficult issue, but to say to the East Timorese, what do you think is the best way forward, bearing in mind you were the people who suffered. And Jose’s answered that question, and we’ll do what we can to support the East Timorese, and actually, for that matter, the Secretary-General in his establishment of experts group and we’ll see how that goes. But I think that’s much the best principle. As I say too, in relation to Iraq, it’s good to listen to different voices and discordant voices here in Australia on that issue, but it’s good to listen to the Iraqi people too and hear what they have to say. It’s quite interesting. Okay, thank you very much.
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