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Indonesian, Australian Leaders Continue to Hold Different Views on Iraq Crisis - 2003-02-15

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has completed a world tour with a visit to Indonesia, and more talks on the issue of Iraq. Mr. Howard and the Indonesian president continue to hold differing views of how best to solve the crisis.

After meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri says their two governments agree about the need to bring a peaceful end to the world's two major diplomatic stand-offs. She said Indonesia and Australia agree that the problems of Iraq and North Korea should be resolved peacefully, through the United Nations. The Indonesian government says it is against any action by the United States and its allies to disarm Iraq without the approval of the U.N. Security Council. Mr. Howard is also in favor of the United Nations resolving the crisis, but like President Bush, he wants the U.N. Security Council to force Iraq to disarm, or face military action.

Mr. Howard said Friday's report by the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, added nothing to new to the debate, and merely confirmed that Baghdad was not complying with existing U.N. resolutions. He is opposed to the idea of allowing more time for weapons inspections. "My position is that it's not time for the inspectors but it's the attitude of Iraq that matters. And unless and until Iraq changes its attitude, time in a sense is irrelevant, because you're not going to get anywhere. We've had 12 years," he said.

Earlier this week, Mr. Howard said a strong and united stance against Iraq was the international community's best way to defuse the potential crisis in North Korea. Washington has accused Pyongyang of reactivating a nuclear weapons program, and the United Nations has found it in violation of international nuclear conventions.

Mr. Howard said the aim of his visit was to discus a range of issues with Ms. Megawati, and not merely to garner support for a possible war. He did take the opportunity to stress that Australia's position on Iraq should not be perceived as anti-Islamic. "Those who argue that Australia's attitude, the United States' or indeed anybody else's attitude who wants to disarm Iraq is based on hostility to Islam are completely wrong," he said. "And that is a false view put around not to improve relations between the great religions of the world but rather to damage relations between the great religions of the world."

Mr. Howard's one-day visit came at the end of a round-the-world trip that included visits to the United States and Britain. He met with U.S. President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Mr. Blix, the U-N weapons inspector.

Australia has committed two-thousand troops to the Persian Gulf, the only nation other than Britain to participate in the American military build-up in the region.