POWELL and Rumsfeld meet with Australian counterparts, discuss germ warfare treaty, security concerns

Monday, July 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) _ Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld, the administration's top national security guns, aired differences with senior Australian officials Monday over a key nonproliferation treaty while hailing 50 years of U.S.-Australian military cooperation.

It was a rare joint public appearance for the secretaries of state and defense. They presented a united front at news conference in the face of efforts by reporters to expose policy disagreements.

Australia is at odds with U.S. opposition to proposals for enforcing a treaty banning germ warfare, and the two sides debated the issue Monday.

But the overall tone of the news conference, which featured the foreign affairs and defense ministers of both countries, was one of mutual appreciation for the roles the two countries play in helping to keep peace in the Asia-Pacific region.

``Without the United States, this region would be a lot more unstable place than it currently is,'' Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said. He was joined at the news conference by his Defense Ministry colleague, Peter Reith.

Powell and Rumsfeld, sometimes in a serious vein and sometimes with humor, brushed aside questions by reporters about supposed differences.

``There is no real space between us, as suggested,'' Powell, the secretary of state, said in response to a question whether he sees eye to eye with Rumsfeld on China.

Did the defense secretary disagree with Powell on North Korea? ``I stand fully behind Secretary Powell's positions,'' Rumsfeld said.

At another point, Rumsfeld joked that he agrees with Powell on all issues ``except for those few cases where Colin is still learning.''

Rumsfeld flew half way around the world to attend Monday's meetings and headed back to Washington afterward. For Powell, the visit wrapped up a five-country tour of the Asia-Pacific region.

Commenting on the biological weapons threat, Rumsfeld said, ``It is something that is of deep concern to the United States and across the globe.''

Rumsfeld told Australian reporters on Sunday that Syria, Iraq and Iran are developing biological weapons in defiance of international treaties. He added that a ``nontrivial number of other countries'' are doing the same thing.

In Geneva last week, the Bush administration announced that it could not support a draft proposal aimed at enforcing the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.

Defending Australia's support for the proposal, Downer acknowledged that the treaty was not 100 percent enforceable but said having the enforcement mechanism was better than not having it.

Powell said, ``We don't think this protocol stops those who wish to proliferate from proliferating and wouldn't do much to verify or catch those who are already proliferating.''

Much of the discussion Monday focused on the upheaval in Indonesia, where the United States and Australia have vital interests.

Both U.S. and Australian ties with the Indonesian military have been limited because of abuses committed in East Timor. But Downer said the two nations see value in expanding contacts with the Indonesian military, contingent on its human rights performance.

Rumsfeld said the positions of Australia and the United States are alike on the issue.