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Australia
Prime Minister John Howard
Press Conference on the Attacks
Australian Embassy
Washington, D.C.
September 11, 2001

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, could I start this news conference by reading a message that I sent a few moments ago to President Bush.

Dear Mr President. The Australian Government and people share the sense of horror experienced by your nation at today's catastrophic events and the appalling loss of life. I feel the tragedy even more keenly being here in Washington at the moment.

In the face of an attack of this magnitude, words are always inadequate in conveying sympathy and support. You can however be assured of Australia's resolute solidarity with the American people at this most tragic time.

My personal thoughts and prayers are very much with those left bereaved by these despicable attacks upon the American people and the American nation.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a very tragic day in the history of a great nation. Words always do fail you on an occasion like this. But the sense of horror I know is shared by all Australians here in Washington and I know will be shared by our fellow countrymen and women back home. I had the opportunity a few moments ago to personally express my feelings to Tom Schieffer - the American Ambassador in the United States who's accompanied me here on my visit.

I can only hope as I know all decent people around the world will that those responsible for this despicable series of attacks upon the United States will be hunted down and meted out the justice that they so much deserve. The full extent of casualties of course is unknown and I am no more able to offer a view on that than any of you.

Can I say that I've spoken to the Acting Prime Minister John Anderson earlier this morning after these events took place. And already arrangements, a number of appropriate arrangements have been made particularly in relation to United States assets and installations in Australia. We have amongst other things the Australian Federal Police have established an exclusion zone around the United States Embassy in Canberra. Heightened security has been established for United States consulates in Sydney and Melbourne and Perth. There's been additional close personal security provided for the American Charges. We have also increased ASIO, increased surveillance of, and protection...has arranged for additional protection in relation to Israeli and Jewish assets in Australia.

At one-thirty this morning Australian time there was a special meeting chaired by the Protective Security Coordinator involving the Departments of the Attorney General; the Defence and ASIO. ASIO of course is continuing to provide assessments. In other words all the appropriate responses are being undertaken in Australia both in relation to American assets and also having regard to obvious tensions in relation to Israeli and Jewish assets in our country.

But the only other thing I can say to you is really on behalf of all the Australians here is to say to our American friends who we love and admire so much, we really feel for you. It is a terrible day. It's a day that recalls the words used by President Roosevelt in 1941 - it's a day of infamy that an attack of this kind can be made in such an indiscriminate fashion - not upon military assets as was the case in Pearl Harbour but upon innocent civilians, men, women and children going about their daily lives. And as I say words aren't very adequate but they are a sign that we feel for our American friends. We will stand by them, we will help them, we will support actions they take to properly retaliate in relation to these acts of bastardry against their citizens and against what they stand for. America has been hurt by today's events but the American spirit will not be thwarted or bowed and diminished by these events. The resolution of the American people will be evident and they will respond and they will respond in accordance with the courageous traditions of their country.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what are your immediate plans with regard to your visit?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think they're just on hold at the moment. Obviously in the light of what's happened it's unlikely that I will complete my program, and there's a freeze on air movements out of the United States at the moment that obviously affects all of us. But I'll just see how things unfold but for the next few hours I'll naturally be staying in Washington.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you said you've made arrangements to secure Israeli premises and Jewish premises as well. Is that an indication that you believe that Arab forces are responsible?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is always a tendency for some of their assets to be targeted. I don't have any evidence. It's a precaution and it's a sensible precaution.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, do you have any information on any Australian casualties?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there was a report that there were two Australian defence officers at the Pentagon missing. I'm very happy to say that they have been found and are safe. And I was informed of that a few moments ago. It is a question though of whether there were any Australians on some of those flights. It has to be kept in mind that is possible. One of them I think may have been a connector flight for Qantas. I just don't know the full extent of that. That's possible. We have to prepare to ourselves for that possibility.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, when will you make a decision regarding your movements?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know Alison. I think, I mean, I'll just see how events unfold.

JOURNALIST:

Will you be returning to the Willard or will you....?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm just talking to people about that.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you were at the Pentagon yesterday. Is it a strange feeling that what, just 24 hours later or less than 24 hours....

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm like everybody else. I'm numb. I think those pictures of the World Trade Center will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was terrible. And I mean it's just about the most cowardly, despicable, low-life way of attacking a country imaginable. There would have been thousands of people in that building when that collision took place.

JOURNALIST:

Have you had any report of our Consulate officials in New York?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have ascertained that they're all okay. Yes we have.

JOURNALIST:

Is this going to force a reassessment of our own security back in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think always on an occasion like this, I mean, it's just too early. I mean clearly we have to get more information about the source of it. I mean the appropriate thing to do is to respond as we have done in relation to any immediate potential target areas back in Australia and depending on what security assessment is made both here and in Australia, but particularly here as to those responsible, then we will respond accordingly.

JOURNALIST:

....way that would look.....

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look it's too early. I mean I think like everybody else I feel distressed. I'm unashamedly distressed as a human being about what is happening. It's just awful. And I feel so deeply for the Americans. They are an open free society and they have this outrageous act of war on them. It's just a very distressing event and I think the time to talk about longer-term policy changes and measures is not now.

JOURNALIST:

There are always threats of terrorism. Did you ever expect to see an act as violent as this attack?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think anybody expected to see anything as bad as this, no. But there are some very deranged, fanatical people in the world.

JOURNALIST:

What sort of retaliation ....?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look it is foolish... that was an expression of solidarity with the Americans which I feel very deeply. But please, that's for the Americans to decide.

JOURNALIST:

... the security of US assets, does that extend to joint facilities?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, they are a long way away from a lot of other...I think they are very safe.

END


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©2001 Commonwealth of Australia.