Tuesday, July 11, 2006

World must stop Iran, Downer says

THE world must stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons and do more to help spread democracy, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said.

In a wide-ranging speech in Adelaide tonight, Mr Downer said the only way to defeat extremism was to bring democracy to the Middle East.

Mr Downer promoted the role of globalisation in alleviating poverty, defended Australia's involvement in Iraq and touted Canberra's efforts at improving stability in the Asia-Pacific.

He said the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks proved that allowing aggressive regimes to carry on unhindered was dangerous and negligent.

"When a regime like the Taliban says it hates the West and invites fellow travellers to use its country as a base, best to take them at their word," he said during his speech to mark the 40th anniversary of Adelaide's Flinders University. READ MORE

"I don't claim we can remove every dictator in the world. But nor do I believe it is a sensible strategy to just walk on the other side of the street.

"When Iran says it wishes to wipe Israel off the map, it would be folly in the extreme to sit back and allow them to develop a nuclear weapon."

Mr Downer said Middle-Eastern regimes could tackle terrorism long-term through democracy.

"In the long run they will only defeat radicalism by opening their political systems and introducing democracy," he said.

The experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan, where people braved terrorist violence to exercise their freedom to vote, were "testimony to the power of the appeal of freedom".

Mr Downer said Australia would not shy away from playing its part in world affairs.

"Over the past 40 years, we haven't lived for ourselves alone, but have made our contributions to the world," he said.

"We fought communism, we opposed apartheid, we supported self-determination for East Timor, and we continue our contest with economic protectionism throughout the world.

"This is not because Australia has been unable to conceive of alternatives beyond our own traditions and experience.

"It's because we believe that the liberal democratic model provides the best mechanism for addressing political, economic and social problems - globally as well as locally."

Globalisation was the best way to improve living standards, even though its advantages were not distributed equally, he said.

Globalisation had helped to reduce the number of people living in poverty to 20 per cent today, compared with 50 per cent in 1950 and 85 per cent in 1820.

"This is not to argue that the benefits of globalisation are spread equally or immediately passed on to all countries," Mr Downer said.

"But the answer is not to retreat - flat earth style - to protectionism and mercantilism. The answer lies in helping to spread access to the global market place."

Australia's international development program was helping to improve stability in countries such as Indonesia, East Timor, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, he said.