Interview with Tony Jones, ABC Lateline
Transcript, E&OE, proof only
Subjects: Afghanistan; Libya; Japanese POW apology
3 March 2011
TONY JONES: Here is tonight's interview with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, who's on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan.
Just as the prospect of foreign military intervention in Libya is being hotly debated, news emerged yesterday in Afghanistan of a tragic misuse of US air power.
The NATO commander General Petraeus has ordered an investigation into an attack by US helicopters, which killed nine young Afghan boys aged between nine to 15, who were collecting firewood in the mountains.
Well we're joined now live from Kabul by the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.
KEVIN RUDD: Good to be with you, Tony.
TONY JONES: Let's start with this horrific incident. Will you be asking questions of the US authorities about how nine children could have been targeted in this way and killed by US helicopters?
KEVIN RUDD: Well of course, Tony. Any loss of civilian life in Afghanistan is wrong in itself, and furthermore, it requires a continued review of the way in which these sorts of operations are conducted.
I note that General Petraeus has ordered an investigation. I note also that NATO has indicated that if necessary, when these sorts of incidents occur, appropriate disciplinary action should be taken. Therefore we await to see what the investigation reveals, but I'll be, of course, raising this with General Petraeus and others when I'm here in Kabul where I've just arrived.
TONY JONES: Yes, I know you've only just arrived, but one survivor of the attack, an 11-year-old boy, is reported as saying the helicopters hovered over the boys, rose up, fired rockets and then shot the boys one after the other using their canons. Does this, at the very least, raise serious questions about the rules of engagement?
KEVIN RUDD: Well that's why I'll be raising this, of course, with General Petraeus here in Kabul.
As for the detail of what actually transpired, it's important to await the investigation. The account from the little boy that you've just referred to is of course horrific, but let's establish all the facts.
Could I also note as way of a general principle, that based on my information, the number of civilian deaths overall, as a result of Coalition operations in Afghanistan, has been decreasing. These deaths are unacceptable, however.
I also note that the number of civilian deaths arising from Taliban operations is increasing. But it's important to get to the actual facts of this incident. Nine young boys dying is not acceptable.
TONY JONES: Now, you've been active in calling for NATO air power to be used to impose a no-fly zone in Libya. Does this Afghanistan incident suggest to you the kind of dangers that could arise out of using foreign air power in Libya?
KEVIN RUDD: Well when it comes to the dangers being faced by the Libyan people, Tony, I think we need to look no further than the Qaddafi regime, which has shown no principles, no constraint, no humanity whatsoever in the mass violence it's deployed against the people of Libya.
The question of no-fly zones arises because, as I'm advised, the Libyan Air Force still has a significant number of active units within it, and therefore the prospect of those units being deployed against civilian targets is real. And given the Qaddafi regime, and the attitude of Qaddafi himself, anything is therefore possible.
That's why we in Australia have argued, for some time now, that no-fly zones should be considered, and I notice this is now being actively examined within NATO and elsewhere.
TONY JONES: The US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, has warned Congress that even a modest no-fly zone would be a very big operation and would necessarily begin with attacks on, an aerial bombardment in fact of Libya's ground-air defences. Is that what you imagine would happen?
KEVIN RUDD: Well the precise nature of a no-fly zone and its precise operational characteristics hinges on the definition of it, the scope, the rules which pertain to it. We always have to keep that in balance on the one hand and the risks associated with it, which are real, against the risks on the other hand of these units of the Air Force being deployed against civilian targets and a further large-scale loss of civilian life.
The bottom line is the Qaddafi regime is not finished.
It has demonstrated by its actions and its words what it intends to do to the civilian population who are not loyal to it, and therefore our argument is that we must exercise all necessary precautions in trying to protect the civilian population and this is one of them.
TONY JONES: So how do you respond to calls from the Libyan opposition or elements of the Libyan opposition for air strikes against the African mercenaries who are taking orders from Qaddafi?
KEVIN RUDD: Well the imposition of a no-fly zone is one thing; that goes to preventing or taking all actions possible to prevent the actual use of the Libyan Air Force against its own population. As for any further direct military engagement, that of course is another matter all together.
As the Secretary of State of the United States has said most recently, and I believe accurately, all other options should of course be kept on the table. But the next most logical option is the one that we are now discussing and that concerns no-fly zones.
TONY JONES: As Australia is a strong proponent of this idea, is it prepared to supply strike fighter aircraft as it did in Iraq?
KEVIN RUDD: Well the last time I looked at the map, Tony, we were actually a long way away from Libya. Therefore when it comes to the deployment of possible assets with a no-fly zone, the first place that people would look would be NATO itself and proximate air forces to give it affect.
That is why NATO is now considering this matter internally and that is where it should properly be deliberated upon. The principle at stake however, here, is a humanitarian one. And if we turn around this time next week and we see large-scale strafings and bombings of the civilian population in Libya by the Libyan Air Force, I think many people would be raising a question as to why we had not acted in this particular manner.
TONY JONES: Given the obvious sensitivities about foreign military intervention in Arab countries, would it be better if the Arab League, who have actually suggested this possibility, would be the ones that impose the no-fly zone, the 22-nation Arab League?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, I've just arrived here in Kabul and I've just been handed one report of a statement from the Arab League concerning no-fly zones. Of course the position of the Arab League is important. In fact it's been quite significant and pivotal in the UN Security Council's decision only several days ago to refer the Libyan regime to the International Criminal Court and for the other measures announced by the Security Council.
So therefore the position of the Arab League is important. And if the reports I've seen are accurate in terms of its position on the no-fly zone, then of course it's possible for states within the Arab world to assist, but as I said, these matters are now being actively deliberated upon within NATO, and that should also be occurring.
TONY JONES: What do you make of the intervention, because I'm sure you must have heard of this as well, from the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who claims to have come up with a peace plan or a sort of model for a peace plan, some kind of intervention to moderate within Libya between the opposing forces?
KEVIN RUDD: Well I think there is a quite clear principle here which is that the Libyan dictator, Qaddafi, is acting in defiance right now of international humanitarian law. It is his actions which must be ceased.
Those who are seeking to oppose the Libyan regime are simply seeking to protect themselves on the one hand, and secondly, bring about fundamental political change in a regime which has been authoritarian for more than the last 40 years.
As for the Chavez plan, I have not seen any detail attached to it. I notice however that even President Chavez has said that while he continued to support the Libyan regime, he had real problems with Qaddafi himself.
Now if President Chavez is saying that, I think we can all safely conclude that in fact there are real problems with this Libyan regime and the international community should be speaking with one voice and through the actions through the UN Security Council, including the one that which we have advocated concerning a no-fly zone.
TONY JONES: OK, Mr Rudd, time for a couple of quick domestic questions.
I appreciate you're a very long way away, but I've got to ask you this because a lot has happened since you've been away. Was Julia Gillard right to make tackling climate change the defining issue of her prime ministership?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, can I just say here and now, Tony, if you look behind me, I'm in Kabul, I'm in Afghanistan. I've just been in Tarin Kowt where we have 1,500 Australian troops. I've been expressing to them the support of the Australian Government and people for what they're doing, and as well as seeing what progress, real progress they've made on the ground, both in the security space, but also in economic and social programs as well.
That's my focus. I don't think it's really right to get into domestic political questions from this distance, given I've been away for several days.
TONY JONES: OK, well in that case, I appreciate that.
One more international question, that is that the Foreign Minister of Japan has just made a unique, as we understand it, first-time apology in 60 years to Australian POWs. Were you aware of that and what is your response to that apology?
KEVIN RUDD: No, I was not aware of it, but I do know the Foreign Minister, Seiji Maehara, very well and I have found him to be a very effective and very principled colleague to deal with as Foreign Minister of Japan.
We are in fact closely co-operating on the whole area of nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament as we speak and a number of other foreign policy and aid measures concerning Egypt and the Middle East.
It does not surprise me therefore, in terms of what you have just said, because I believe this would reflect a principled position on the part of the Japanese government. However, at Kabul, I haven't received the text of what the minister has said, so I'd reserve further comment until that stage.
TONY JONES: Sure ...
KEVIN RUDD: Tony, can I add one point though about ... ?
TONY JONES: Yes, go ahead.
KEVIN RUDD: One point just about Afghanistan.
Can I just say where I've been the last day or two in the province of Oruzgan where our troops are and in Tarin Kowt, there are measurable improvements in the security space, the economic space and the social space and people back home need to be aware of that.
The parameters in which people are now operating are much further than they were before.
It's still not a done deal; there are lots of obstacles ahead; it's very hard; but I'd just like to say to your viewers we should be proud of what our aid workers and others are doing on the ground together with the men and women of the ADF.
TONY JONES: OK. Well, you were a little late, your aircraft was a little late in arriving because of bad weather so we didn't get a chance to have any briefing on where you'd just come from.
We're interested to hear that obviously, but unfortunately we've run out of time. We'll have to leave you there. We thank you very much for being there in Kabul tonight.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555