Canberra, Dec. 4 (Reuters): Australia called in ambassadors from Southeast Asia today to try to defuse a crisis over comments by Prime Minister John Howard that pre-emptive action in a foreign country is a legitimate response to terrorism.
Officials said foreign minister Alexander Downer called in 10 ambassadors from countries in the region to explain Howard’s comments and stress there would be no action without consultation.
Downer said Australia was trying to work closely with Asian neighbours to head off such attacks as the October 12 bombings which killed more than 180 people, including up to 90 Australians, on the Indonesian island of Bali.
“None of the governments in our region sponsors or supports terrorism,” Downer told Australian television.
Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand have lashed out at Howard’s comments, saying such action would amount to an act of war, although Howard did not specifically mention military action and insists his comments were not directed at the region.
The meeting with Asian ambassadors followed reports that two Asian nations had threatened to pull out of counter-terrorism cooperation deals with Australia. Australia was quick to join the US-led war on terrorism after last year’s September 11 attacks.
One of Howard’s most outspoken Asian critics, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, said today that Australia’s stance could undermine regional counter-terrorism cooperation.
“We are cooperating as much as we can today in the fight against terrorism. But if they are going to blame us, we will have to rethink about cooperating with them,” Mahathir said.
Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, whose government has also suggested counter-terrorism cooperation could suffer, said today it was important to understand global responsibility. “All countries in the world who value peace and freedom must help one another,” Arroyo said during a visit to Tokyo.