De Hoop Scheffer: Good afternoon, bonjour à tous.
It's a pleasure for me and I know for all of us to welcome, I could say again, the Honourable Alexander Downer, Australian foreign minister to this special meeting of the North Atlantic Council.
Minister... dear Alexander, good day. I was particularly impressed reviewing the progress achieved on NATO-Australia relations since you last addressed this council which was in May 2004.
During these two years and under your guidance and leadership, Australia and NATO are now working closely in Afghanistan where your government has decided to make a significant contribution to the Dutch-led PRT as part of what we call our Stage 3 Expansion in Afghanistan South.
On top of that, we have concluded an agreement on the protection of information. And our services are regularly exchanging information in support of the fight against terrorism. You also appointed a Defence attaché in Brussels who supports the growing practical cooperation between the Australian forces and NATO.
In short, our relations are probably the best demonstration that NATO and countries geographically remote from the Euro-Atlantic region can achieve a lot and cooperate in a truly, mutually beneficial way. And these are not abstract benefits.
Opium from Afghanistan finds its way onto streets in Australia as well as in the US and Europe. And the terror groups that would thrive if we left Afghanistan to become a "filth State" can and will not strike just in Europe or North America but also in your region as the Bali bombings so terribly demonstrated.
In other words, we have much to gain in defending common values. You are aware that NATO is currently discussing ways to enhance our cooperation with these so-called contact countries. And in this regard, you coming to NATO is both very opportune and timely.
And let me also thank you for the Australian contribution to this debate in the form of a paper that was circulated to the ambassadors last week. I'm sure that during the discussion with the North Atlantic Council we will have a very interesting exchange of views.
Minister, Alexander, we welcome this opportunity to exchange with you on common... on issues of common interest, please take the floor.
Downer: Thanks very much Secretary General and permanent representatives. I'm pleased and I'm honoured once again to have the opportunity to exchange views with members of the North Atlantic Council.
NATO has been at the forefront of efforts to combat global terrorism and restore stability in conflict zones and unstable States. It has well proven itself as an adaptable, capable and a highly effective organization.
Australia closely shares your collective values and active commitment in tackling contemporary security challenges that are now part of the world and further feud. More than 10% of the Australian army are currently serving across the globe: in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Sudan, in East Timor and in the Solomon Islands.
Australia's relationship with NATO is an evolving relationship. And this is something that I warmly welcome. I look forward to discussing how this relationship might develop in the future: practical cooperation between like-minded nations can only strengthen the effectiveness and breath of our responses to new threats to global security.
The clearest example of how far we have come is Australia's decision to contribute to ISAF's work in Afghanistan with our troops now deploying to work with Dutch forces in the south of the country. This will be in addition to Royal Australian Air Force teams providing helicopter lift capability.
NATO has shown out outstanding leadership in Afghanistan. Success or failure in Afghanistan will determine the kind of world we will be living in the years to come. We've seen recently fierce fighting against the Taliban. And NATO troops have lost their lives. The cost of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan is high but the cost of failure will be even higher. Thank you very much.
De Hoop Scheffer: Thank you very much, Minister Downer. May I ask the representatives, representative of the press to leave the room?