Interview with CNN
Transcript, E&OE, proof only
Subjects: Visit to the Middle East, Libya, Afghanistan
8 March 2011
JOURNALIST: Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd thank you for spending a bit of time with me.
KEVIN RUDD: I am pleased to do so. I am always pleased to talk with our friends on CNN.
JOURNALIST: Now you've been in contact with a number of top officials around the world, the Secretary of State for the US Hillary Clinton, William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary, and the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa. This growing chorus is now calling for a no-fly zone over Libya. How, though, do you think it should be implemented.
KEVIN RUDD: Let's go back to first principles. We in Australia have called for this now for the better part of two weeks, and the reason why we have called for it is because if you look at the interests of the Libyan civilian population there has always been a risk that Qaddafi would deploy the remaining units of his Airforce against the civilian population.
I said at the UN in Geneva just a week or so ago let's never forget Guernica - the bombing of that town in northern Spain in 1938. And this risk has only, I think, been proven to be a real risk in the events over the last ten days to two weeks.
Now a no-fly zone, I am fully familiar with the complexities of it. We don't come with some naive attitude to this. It is, however, very much the lesser of two evils, in our judgement, and the greater evil is simply to stand back and allow the innocent people of Libya to be strafed and bombed by Qaddafi, who now operates completely outside the boundaries of international humanitarian law.
On the operationalisation of it, which is your key question: number one is to ensure, of course, that there is an appropriate head of power for this through the UN Security Council.
I think that the Council will be very mindful of the attitude of both the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on these questions. I noted carefully the statements by Amr Moussa in the last two to three days embracing the possibility of a no-fly zone. Yesterday I was in Jeddah speaking with the Secretary-General of the OIC, and I know that this is a matter of active internal consideration for them as well.
Why are these bodies important? Because they will shape the political opinion which then prevails in the Council in New York, the Security Council, to create the necessary legal underpinnings for such a zone.
JOURNALIST: But Russia and China have proven to be cool to the idea of a no-fly zone. Do you expect them to come around in the Security Council when this issue comes up?
KEVIN RUDD: Well let me use an analogy here. When we were debating the first statement by the Council, prior to the Security Council resolution on Libya, there was some debate within that statement about whether or not reference should be made to the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, which is a relatively new doctrine in international humanitarian law, and to protect the civilian population of Libya through the international community.
What caused the Chinese and Russians to come around on that occasion, I believe, was the fact that the Arab League, and the OIC and the African Union all came out saying – there is an obligation in the international community to protect our fellow Muslims, our fellow Arabs, our fellow Africans, in Libya, and therefore, I go back to what I said before - the position therefore taken by the OIC and by the Arab League is quite important in shaping the political opinion on this next question concerning the imposition of a no-fly zone when it comes to Libya.
JOURNALIST: So the ideology is there, it seems unified across a number of international bodies, but what about the hardware. After a no fly zone is implemented, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that does include going tactically after Libyan positions. Is Australia prepared to commit boots to the ground to join an international effort, if that is deemed necessary?
KEVIN RUDD: Well the first thing I would say is that a no-fly zone is vastly different from what you described as boots on the ground. Boots on the ground is direct, military, armed intervention on the ground. And I see no consensus for that emerging anywhere at least at this stage.
But as for a no fly zone the characteristics of it, the operational characteristics of it, the operational characteristics of it, are the subject, as I'm advised by public briefing by the British and the French to be under active consideration in NATO as we speak. That is, what it would look like, what the rules of engagement would be, and therefore, I think it's imprudent for politicians, let alone Foreign Ministers, to engage in the detailed mechanics of what such a military operation involving air units would look like.
But obviously there is a particular responsibility, that is being faced by the [inaudible] states and NATO as a proxy for the region. And therefore let us see what military plan is agreed on.
Bob Gates is a friend of mine, a very good Secretary of Defense, a very practical man, and the cautions he urges in terms of the implications, should be taken note of, but we don't depart from our Australian view; and that is one which is shaped by recent humanitarian history.
We failed as an international community in Rwanda; we failed as an international community in Darfur; by-and-large we were very too late in Srebrenica. Let us be mindful of the lessons of history here and not see it repeated in Libya.
JOURNALIST: Under the shadow of the conflict happening in Libya is a massive, what the UN describes as a humanitarian crisis could become a catastrophe. Is Australia prepared to commit humanitarian resources, additional resources, to people fleeing Libya? I know you have already committed to help Egypt in its second phase.
KEVIN RUDD: Well let us leave the Egypt question to one side as I have recently been in Cairo there talking about their social and economic needs in a critical, critical year for them and we're working in partnership with the international community on that. But on the immediate question of a humanitarian crisis arising out of Libya, this is real.
What you see on your television screens is real, based on the most recent numbers I've seen from the UN we've had 220,000 people flee so far - the bulk of whom, or the majority of whom are going out through Tunisia. That's one of the reasons I'm going to Tunisia tomorrow to speak with the interim government in Tunis about the crisis they face on their own borders.
And from the humanitarian perspective we in Australia I think are currently within the top five global contributors to the effort put in by the international council the Red Cross, by the High Commissioner for Refugees, by the International Office of Migration, and we stand ready to deliver further assistance, but I want to talk to our Tunisian friends first about how that's best done.
JOURNALIST: There's so much change happening in the Middle East just this year, you just were in Israel meeting the Prime-Minister there Benjamin Netanyahu. How are they viewing the changes happening around them?
KEVIN RUDD: Well I always make a habit and a practice, and it's one of sound diplomacy, never to seek to describe the views of others so I won't seek to characterise the views of either Prime-Minister Netanyahu or President Mahmoud Abbas when I saw him Ramallah.
But let me just say this, I think everyone party to the peace process have seized to the fact that these external political factors are now very much playing into the overall strategic environment within which the peace process negotiations are underway.
Therefore in our argument, from Australia's point of view, this argues for urgency in bringing that particular negotiation to conclusion. We don't need another roadmap, we need a road destination. We need to get to the end of the road. We need to bring this to conclusion.
The terrain for these discussions and negotiations is fairly clear; the final stated issues have been known basically since Camp David II and the architecture of an arrangement between the parties is clear. So, in our own way, Australia, we seek in the region to be friends of all and enemies of none.
We are a ways away, but we have significant communities: Jewish Australians, Arab Australians, Palestinian Australians, so we seek to try and bring our good offices to bear in a quiet way to support these negotiations. There are formal processes involving the quartet, Tony Blair has a leading role, he's doing a very good job on that score. We seek simply to encourage this at a different level.
JOURNALIST: What's your, just personal reaction, to what we've seen happen in North Africa and the Middle East - the uprisings, from dictatorships to more democratic societies, some protesters want the government out some simply want reform, some simply want jobs. What do you think when you look at the map of the region and you see the change that's taking place?
KEVIN RUDD: I think the truth of it is we're all torn by two sets of emotions, let's just be real about it Errol in terms of how we feel. Enormous excitement at the fact that the universality of the aspiration for freedom is not bound to any culture, any country, and anytime in history. That it is universal.
One of the most moving things for me recently was to sit down with those kids who'd been in Tahrir Square when I was in Cairo about a week or so ago. We got a round table of them together at our Ambassador's residence. Young kids from the Muslim Brotherhood; young kids from secular organisations; young kids from human rights organisations; young Copts; young Muslims, you name it they were all there. And what united them was their desire to see new Egypt, a democratic Egypt a new pluralist Egypt in which they could all participate. So that's the excitement.
What's the other emotion? Well, what the Egyptians themselves feel and I think elsewhere in the region which is, ‘what will come out in the wash? What will emerge from this democratic process?' If you look at our good friends in Egypt having to negotiate constitutional change, having to negotiate, parliamentary elections, having to negotiate Presidential elections and to do that within six months.
In my country that would be hard, and we're one of the oldest functioning democracies in the world, continuing democracies in the world I should say. So this is a tall order. But I think that comes back to us and the international community also, to be supportive of our friends in Egypt, understanding there are real problems on the ground with food security, real problems on the ground of large scale youth unemployment what can we as international friends bring to the table to assist our good friends in Egypt come through what is a very difficult political year. And again that's what we in Australia in our very modest way seek to help with, in partnership with others.
JOURNALIST: Give me a breakdown of your itinerary to come, you head to Tunisia next, what follows?
KEVIN RUDD: Following Tunisia, having been on the road now for ten days I'm heading back to Australia. But, it's been important to spend some time here in the neighbourhood. I did so most recently in December, and the terrain is radically changed. But, we have great relations with most of the participants in these great debates, often I think aided by the fact that we're geographically removed from them. But we've also had good historical relations as well.
So that's why I've spent time here with the Gulf States; we have our first strategic political dialogue with all Gulf Country Ministers today here in Abu Dhabi; with our good friends in Saudi yesterday in Jeddah, but also on the ground with our friends in Egypt and Jordan and of course those who are party to these critical negotiations for the future of an independent and viable Israeli and Palestinian state. We'll be back, we'll continue to do our bit, always seeking to be constructive where we can.
JOURNALIST: And a final question; this week Prime-Minister Julia Gillard met with the US President to talk about the strategy in Afghanistan, Australia committing 1,500 troops there.
You know how hard it is leading a country at a time of financial strain. What is the plan looking forward for Australia's presence with the NATO forces in Afghanistan?
KEVIN RUDD: We are strong and we are committed, this is not a time to be bailing out. Because we already quite a ways down this road. In the midst of my other travels I also spent two days in Afghanistan, so I've just come from Hamid Karzai in Kabul and our own forces on the ground in a province called Uruzgan, which is between Helmand and Kandahar, where we've been for the last five years.
What I found in Uruzgan, which is the poorest province in Afghanistan, is measurable progress. I've been there many times as Prime-Minister and before that as an ordinary member of parliament. And, the progress is real on the ground. The first time I was travelling quite extensively in the province on ground, out to the provincial capital, meeting with the Governor in his compound, up opening a Mosque which we had funded.
There are signs of progress. And on the military side the training of the forth brigade of the Afghan national army is well underway. Our work with the Afghan national police is solid and strong. So in our province I actually see real measurable progress and integrated political and military strategy. And that of course is consistent with the NATO ISAF strategy country wide.
And my discussions with General Petraeus and with Hamid Karzai in Kabul, and with our Embassy there, there is also progress being made nationwide. I'm not starry eyed about the problems; I'm not starry eyed about the difficulties which arise when innocent Afghan kids get killed, as has happened most recently. But I do see progress. So we'll be there, doing our lot, and we're very mindful and respectful of Hamid Karzai's 2014 deadline for handing over security responsibilities. We have no problems with that whatsoever. We are working within that framework.
JOURNALIST: Alright. Former Prime-Minister and Australia's current Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd thank you very much for your time.
KEVIN RUDD: Thanks Errol.
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