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Homeland Security

28 January 2004

Ashcroft Thanks Austria for Help on Terrorism, Iraq, Crime

Jan. 26, Vienna: U.S. Attorney General, Austrian Interior Minister Ernst Strasser

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Austrian Interior Minister Ernst Strasser held a joint press conference after their meeting in Vienna January 26, discussing U.S.-Austrian cooperation in the fight against terrorism, drugs, child pornography, and trafficking in human beings.

In his opening statement, Ashcroft expressed the "deep appreciation" of the American people for Austrian cooperation in the war against terrorism. He said Austrian cooperation in the fight against trafficking and narcotics was "deeply and profoundly important" to the United States as well.

Strasser in his opening statement noted that U.S. -- Austrian cooperation has led to the seizure of more than 330 kilograms of cocaine and the discovery and breakup of a child pornography network.

Ashcroft also expressed gratitude for the deployment of Austrian policemen to Jordan to train Iraqi police units. "We're not only grateful for the participation of the Austrian officials in this respect, but for the high quality of the training, and in all of my encounters, the Austrian officials have been commended for the quality of the police training that's undertaken," he said.

Asked whether they had discussed links between Al Qaeda and Austria and Europe, Ashcroft said: "We see it as a threat globally and we don't see any nations as being immune from the al Qaeda terrorist threat."

Strasser agreed, saying "there are no safe havens anymore as far as terrorist attacks and threats are concerned.... What is necessary is that we work towards a close partnership, a close cooperation of all institutions, all units, and all countries, which then take a shoulder-to-shoulder stance in the fight against terror, no matter where, and when it manifests itself."

Following is a transcript provided by the U.S. Embassy in Vienna:

(begin transcript)

Vienna Austria
Austrian Interior Ministry
January 26, 2004


STRASSER (translation from German): Ladies and gentlemen, as Austrian Interior Minister I am very happy to welcome the US Attorney General. This is the first visit of a US cabinet member in quite a long time, since the second half of the 1990s, and I consider this visit a very clear sign. A very clear sign that Europe and the US should and want to cooperate closely on security issues. We are not only responsible for our respective peoples, our responsibility goes beyond that: We (are responsible) for Europe, and all of us (are responsible) for peace and prosperity throughout the entire world. Therefore, ours is a community of fate, uniting Europe and America, and I, as Austrian Interior Minister, want to contribute actively to peace, prosperity and to the cooperation of the two continents - Europe and America - especially now.

Just as the Chancellor stated this morning, we are in complete agreement on about 90 percent (of the issues), when it comes to combating terrorism, in fighting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, in fighting illicit drug production and drug trade, with regard to aiding and supporting so-called failed states to re-emerge as democratic nations for their peoples. Here in Austria, we want to thank you - not only you Mr. Ashcroft, but all the institutions within the American government and the US authorities for the successful, excellent cooperation with the Austrian Interior Ministry's institutions, which especially during the past two years has proved of inestimable value. Be it the fight against drugs, through the participation of the Americans in the European project TACIS-BOMCA, be it the successful operative cooperation, we owe it to "the drug enforcement administration in your ministry" (words in quotation marks spoken in English) that we were able to seize more that 330 kilograms of cocaine, that a child pornography network was detected, uncovered and handed over to the (Austrian) Justice Ministry with the help of your units from the FBI.

We are also cooperating closely on counterterrorism. It was the American authorities, which aided us in achieving in a timely manner and as one of the first countries, where so-called Iraqi diplomats had to leave the country, because they were operating as agents here in Austria. And we could also contribute to the program of flight attendants, who by now have protected more than 15,000 American flights by US airlines. We may also - and I would like to thank the American Ambassador in Austria especially - proudly say that as part of our good partnership Austria was among the first countries in Europe to deploy Austrian policemen to train Iraqi police units in Jordan. And both (our countries) can justly be proud that a few days ago, in late January, the first 500 Iraqi policemen took up work in their country. Today, during our meeting, one of the participants said "we need platforms, links between Europe and the United States" (words in quotation marks spoken in English) and you replied that Austria was something of a bridge between the new democracies and the new EU members. In this vein, we in Austria want to further cooperation with our friends and colleagues in the United States.

With regard to the strategic cooperation of the Salzburg Group, which we formed with the Interior Ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, we want to push the question of a "European police force" (words in quotation marks spoken in English), the so-called Euro cops that may be deployed speedily, anywhere in Europe, and even outside the European Union, should it be necessary for the police to become active there. We want to push the implementation of the Solana Paper. We plan to push the West Balkan Strategy in accordance with our American friends in Europe. We will intensify the training workshops for air marshals, and we welcome the cooperation with our American colleagues with regard to combating drug trade in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, which are significant for transit to Austria.

Finally, we heard your speech in Davos on corruption with great interest. We believe that corruption is one of the reasons for organized crime, and not only corruption outside of Europe, but naturally also within Europe. Therefore, we are planning to make corruption one of the top issues that the Austrian Interior Ministry is going to push within the European Union during the (Austrian) presidency in 2006. Today, I would like to thank you for the fact that preparation in this area can be realized in close cooperation with your colleagues. Thank you very much for your visit. You have the floor.

ASHCROFT: Well, let me first of all express my profound appreciation to you and to the Chancellor and to the people of this great nation for their hospitable welcome, and I'm delighted to have this opportunity to be here. I express our deep appreciation of the American people and the Government of the United States of America for your cooperation in fighting against terror. Terror is the attempt of some to impose their will upon others through injury and extortion, and that is the antithesis of freedom. Your defense of freedom and your support in the war against terror is very important.

I was thrilled to be able to meet with the Chancellor today, and thank you for taking me in to see the Chancellor. He was encouraging in terms of his understanding and your understanding of the leadership that Austria has in the region, especially as it relates to the emerging states that would join the European Union, and that are now beginning to conduct themselves in a way which reflects a citizenship in the world community and among nations, who respect freedom and who support human dignity.

In addition to expressing my thanks to you for your cooperation as relates to the war on terror, let me say that our cooperation with regard to law enforcement is deeply and profoundly important to the United States. A substantial problem we have is the problem with both narcotics and human trafficking. We are delighted to join with you to work against these threats. We commend you for having worked in the war against child pornography. Children are the future, they may only be 25 percent of the population today, but they are 100 percent of the future of our nations and of the world community. And working together to curtail the abuse of children is a very important item.

And last, but not least, let me commend you and thank you for your devotion to the issue of eradicating corruption. Public corruption is a massive tax on the poor. And in the world of underdeveloped and emerging nations, when resources are diverted away from the public good, and they are diverted by corrupt officials to private greed instead of the public good, it holds people in poverty, because it deprives them of the education, the infrastructure and the opportunity to be productive, and to gain resources to lift them above the plague of poverty. So I look forward to the leadership that you will exhibit, as you (will have) a responsibility to lead the European Union countries and your emphasis on eradicating corruption. And thank you again for welcoming me, and particularly for the opportunity to join you in meeting with the Chancellor today.

RAUCH (MOI press officer): Attorney General, many thanks for your statement. The press now has the opportunity to ask questions. We have a microphone here (inaudible).

QUESTION: Michael Anheier from APA, Austrian Press Agency. Mister Secretary, yesterday your colleague, Secretary of State Colin Powell, I think as the first member of the Bush administration stated his opinion that any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq might never be found Do you agree with this assessment and if you do, in which way do you think does it affect the justification of the invasion in Iraq?

ASHCROFT: Weapons of mass destruction, including evil chemistry, evil biology, and the development of nuclear weapons including, you know, weapons of radiological impact, these are all things that are matters of great concern. And these are items, which were of concern not only to the United States, but were of concern to the world community, and they are the subject of that concern and the concern of the world was the subject of UN resolutions regarding Iraq. We know from the testimony of individuals and from the evidence that weapons of very serious chemistry, weapons of those kinds of evil impact were used by Saddam Hussein on his own population, and they were used in conflicts that he had with other neighboring states. So, I believe that there is a very clear understanding that Saddam Hussein continued to pose a threat to individuals as a result of those kinds of instrumentalities of destruction and injury, and I believe there is significant evidence that over the course of time, he used weapons of evil chemistry and injury even on his own population.

RAUCH: Thank you. The next question, please.

QUESTION: Karl Wendel, NEWS. You spoke about international terrorism. Are there any links between al Qaeda and Austria and Europe? And if so, did you speak about it?

ASHCROFT: Well, let me just say that I don't know where all the links are. One of the things we learned dramatically, suddenly and painfully were that there were links between al Qaeda and the United States of America, and they were links in an operational way that injured us in a very substantial way. I believe that terrorism is transnational and global, and that there are no immune locations. If you'll just review history for the last several months, if not for several years, you'll see very serious strikes of terrorist activity that from every indication in my judgment are related to al Qaeda and its related organizations, in every quarter of the globe, and against Muslim nations as well as non-Muslim nations, so that this is something to be taken seriously. So in the United States we take very seriously the potential and the likelihood of additional activity by al Qaeda in the United States, and we are very, very careful as a result of that. It would be inappropriate for me to try and go down a list of nations, and to describe the levels of activity for al Qaeda in those various nation states. Suffice it to say, we take the terrorist community very seriously, and we expect it to be manifested and be operating, or... We see it as a threat globally and we don't see any nations as being immune from the al Qaeda terrorist threat.

STRASSER: Ladies and Gentlemen, not only since September 11th has it become clear that there are no safe havens anymore as far as terrorist attacks and threats are concerned. This is true for all countries in Europe, and also for our own country. What is necessary is that we work towards a close partnership, a close cooperation of all institutions, all units, and all countries, which then take a shoulder-to-shoulder stance in the fight against terror, no matter where, and when it manifests itself. And in this context we may say that we maintain a close level of cooperation also with the institutions of Europe, but naturally also with our friends in the United States, and we can say from the knowledge and the hints we have gathered that Austria is not a prime target for terrorist attacks of this kind, but that we must remain careful and vigilant, and that we must follow up every piece of information that could point towards something of this kind.


QUESTION: Nikola Donig, Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, radio. Two questions, one short question for Minister Strasser, and one for the Attorney General. Minister Strasser, you said that Austria and the US agree on 90 percent of the issues. Could you please tell us what the remaining 10 percent is that you do not agree on? And my question for Mister Secretary is: As far as it is possible, can you give us any details of information exchange between Austria and the United States concerning possible terrorists? We learned that Austria is interested in drug dealers from Nigeria, there is some information I learn the US has got, and did you receive any information about Arabic people living in Austria that you think could have something to do with terrorist plans? Thank you.

STRASSER: It is a clear principle of our policy that we talk about the ninety percent in press conferences, and about the remaining 10 percent in our talks with each other. And the goal of our talks is that we get from 90 to 95, to 97 percent. And today we made good progress in this respect.

ASHCROFT: Let me just say that on the fundamental issues of human dignity and freedom, and these are the basic foundations of a community, whether they be cities, or states, or nations, or the world community, we are in total agreement. So that if we are talking of some tiny fraction of disagreement, it's not on fundamental issues. The fundamental issues are 100 percent agreement, at least from my perspective. And I am grateful for that, and that provides us with the basis for the kind of cooperation that's not only founded on this fundamental agreement on values, but it's also based on trust in the individuals involved, and in the competence and capacity of the governments involved. And as we share information and data, which provides and promotes and undergirds our ability to provide security for the freedoms which are important to both of our nations. It's not just important that we have a unity of values, but that we have a confidence in the capacity of the systems, and we exchange information whenever we believe we can elevate the security for the liberties and freedoms of the people of either of our countries. And that's a relationship which has been very productive. Let me just make one other note about this capacity issue: Austria has participated, as I believe the Minister mentioned, in the training of new police officers for the Iraqi people as they begin to again have the opportunity to safeguard their own freedoms. We're not only grateful for the participation of the Austrian officials in this respect, but for the high quality of the training, and in all of my encounters, the Austrian officials have been commended for the quality of the police training that's undertaken. And when police work is done, it's a way of securing liberty and freedom in a culture, and to have that done at the highest and best level of quality is very important, and I express publicly my appreciation for the high quality of work, as well as the fact of the training being undertaken.

RAUCH: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention. Thank you (inaudible).

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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