Interview with ABC TV, Multinational forces and observers, Sinai

Subjects: Afghanistan, WikiLeaks, Peace process.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

10 December 2010

Knight: Minister, does the Afghanistan war still scare the hell out of you?

Foreign Minister Rudd: Afghanistan has always been a difficult operating environment from the time the Government changed back in 2007.

The very claim that this was a very difficult, dangerous and bloody and at times grim situation - that’s reflected in what the Government was saying at the time, and also reflected in terms of our analysis at the time as well.

As of the last couple of years, of course ourselves and the Americans have embarked on a fundamental and re-directional reform of strategy both within Afghanistan, ourselves, but also in partnership with the other NATO and ISAF allies.

Knight: Why did you… Why did it scare the hell out of you?

Rudd: Firstly, if you are referring to Wikileaks, let me just again say very plainly, that the Government will not comment on the content or the accuracy of any cables which have been the subject of unauthorised release. There is a reason for that, and the reason for that is if you are going to maintain a system of international diplomacy based on confidential communications, those communications should remain confidential. The Government routinely and consistently condemns any such breach including these breaches as well.

And on the general policy on Afghanistan let me make some other remarks.

When the Government assumed office at the end of 07, it was quite plain from the situation on the ground there that we were in a difficult, dangerous, bloody and at times grim environment and the Government was very frank about that with the Australian people, frank about also the basis for our redirection of Australian Government strategy, redirection of US strategy, redirection of NATO/ISAF strategy.

That process began in 09 and you see it reflected also with the decisions of the recent NATO/ISAF summit.

Knight: Was that your view and is it still your view?

Rudd: Again I won’t go to the content and the accuracy of what may have been contained in cable traffic which has been the subject of unauthorized release.

What I will say, just go to the public record; grim, difficult, dangerous, bloody, these are the things that I consistently said to the Australian people back in 08 about the situation we faced, and therefore, when it came time for Australia to step up more, and to increase our troop presence on the ground by nearly 50%, we did so in the context by a redefinition of Australia’s Afghanistan strategy, in Uruzgan, to train the Afghan security forces, to build up capacity within the Afghan provincial government within the province of Uruzgan, and provide a basis for ultimate Australian withdrawal. And we did that consistent with the redefinition of US and NATO/ISAF strategy as well.

That’s what we have done since then, those were our views then, and they are reflected aptly on the Government’s public record at the time.

Knight: Minister, Wikileaks has put your Prime Ministership quite back in the spotlight. How much more is to come?

Rudd: You know something, as I have said before, the subject of unauthorized release of cables is a matter for debate in every capital in the world right now. Foreign Ministers, Prime Ministers answering all sorts of questions which have arisen through the claims contained in various cables which have been the subject of unauthorised release.

The bottom line is if you are going to be in the business of diplomacy, diplomatic communications are supposed to remain confidential and that’s why we condemn their unauthorized release and we continue to do so, but the job of being the foreign minister of Australia means getting on with the business.

Why am I right now here in the Sinai with you? I’m here in the Sinai right now because we have got a whole bunch of dedicated Australian defence professionals who are doing their job to maintain peace and security in a highly unstable part of the world in a line which separates Israel and Egypt and with Gaza and Hamas not far away, in fact, 15 kilometres away from where we stand at the moment - that’s the business of proper diplomacy right now. They are the challenges which the international community faces right now. They are the challenges which the Australian government faces right now. I’ll leave it to the historians to deal with any other matter that you care to raise.

Knight: Just one final questions minister. As Australia’s foreign Minister, have you detected any change or reticence amongst the diplomats that you are dealing with?

Rudd: Absolutely not. The attitude of foreign policy professionals and diplomats and heads of Government around the region and around the world is to get on with the business of the challenges of today.

We have a peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which is running into all sorts of trouble. We have Hamas operating barely 15 kilometres from where we are right now. We have got a number of Australian defence force personnel on the ground here right now. This is the sort of practical stuff which foreign policy and foreign policy professionals and foreign ministers are dealing with as we speak here in Cairo, in Dubai, right around the Middle East, and guess what, the United States and Australia.

The job with foreign policy like defence policy is to get on with the job and not rake over the embers of the past.

Knight: Kevin Rudd thank you.

Rudd: Thank you.

ENDS

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