Joint press conference with the Foreign Minister of Egypt HE Mr Ahmed Aboul Gheit

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

27 February 2011

ABOUL GHEIT: We're happy to have with us today the Foreign Minister of Australia who is visiting Egypt. We discussed the situation in the Middle East and developments in Egypt, including Egyptian political developments, the constitutional reforms which were published today. We also discussed the future economic program in Egypt. We agreed to cooperate in order to improve Egyptian economy. Australia is ready to participate with other donors in the Western world and work with other European countries, the UN and international institutions on the economy, in the field of agriculture in which Australia has a particular interest. They have great ideas about agriculture; food security is also a priority.

This is an important visit because Australia has great influence on Western countries. They are talking about investments and working with the World Bank so that the World Bank will work with Egypt to boost the Egyptian economy in the next critical stage in which Egypt needs a lot of help.

I also told the Australian Foreign Minister that Egypt has changed. We are building a strong economy and a strong democracy which can join the other democracies in the world. Thank you.

KEVIN RUDD: Thank you very much Foreign Minister and its good to be back in Cairo again. I was here only two months ago and there have been profound changes in those two months.

Firstly I'd thank my friend and colleague for receiving me today here in Cairo. I would thank him also for his personal assistance to Australians during the recent period of political turmoil here in Egypt.

Second I'd like to congratulate the people of Egypt for expressing their strong voice for a future democratic Egypt.

For me as a foreigner it was a moving experience to walk down to Tahrir Square yesterday and to meet some young people.

As the Foreign Minister has indicated to me today the work of change in Egypt has just begun. The interim Egyptian government has indicated its program for constitutional reform and that program extends over the six months to come. It includes the great challenges of conducting both parliamentary and presidential elections during that period. The people of Australia and the people of the international community commend and celebrate the decision of the people of Egypt to move in this historic direction.

The third point I'd make concerns how we in Australia and the international community can partner with Egypt in the period ahead on the challenges that Egypt faces with its economy.

Firstly how we can continue to support foreign investment in Egypt in this difficult period including addressing international confidence in the future of Egypt's tourism industry. Egypt is a beautiful country. It is a hallmark of antiquity. Therefore I'm sure international tourists will come back in due course to savour the beauties of this ancient country. We're acutely conscious that seven to ten per cent of the total workforce is employed in the tourism industry.

Furthermore, as the Foreign Minister indicated, we'll seek to work directly with Egypt and with international partners in the area of food security but also agricultural research and reform to increase Egypt's agricultural output. Since my last visit here in December we've had a technical team here looking at possible future cooperation in the areas of dryland farming, irrigated farming and water management. We will now build on this in partnership with the Agriculture Ministry here in Egypt.

Australia will also work with the international community through international financial institutions to provide other forms of partnership and assistance and support to our Egyptian friends in the period ahead.

The Foreign Minister has been keen in emphasising the long-term importance for Egypt of demining here in this country given the number of landmines which were laid here during World War Two. Australia invests more than 100 million dollars globally in a program of demining in many countries suffering from mine legacies in the past. We will now expand our efforts here in Egypt.

Finally, the Foreign Minister and I also spoke this morning about unfolding events in the country to our West – Libya – and the loss of life in that country. Speaking as the Australian Government, I stress again the absolute importance of the Libyan regime respecting the norms of international law and refraining from acts of mass violence against the civilian population, or it will incur the penalties which are available under international criminal law.

In conclusion could I again thank the Foreign Minister for his hospitality today.

I'm also meeting with the Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Minister for Planning and International Cooperation and other Egyptian political figures throughout the course of today.

Egypt is a great country. What happens here will be of profound significance in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

Australia intends not to be a fair-weather friend for Egypt, but a friend for all seasons. In working with our friends in Cairo, we are working for the long term health of this democracy, the long term health of its economy, and the long term support for its people.

ABOUL GHEIT: We will answer only two Questions because we have to meet two visiting American Senators who are Senators McCain and Lieberman at 9:30.

QUESTION: what's happening in Libya is developing quickly. Are there fears of foreign intervention in Libya like what happened in Iraq?

ABOUL GHEIT: Security Council decision was issued yesterday. We haven't seen any intentions in this respect. Some measures were considered. For example establishing a no-fly zone in Libya. But until now these are just ideas. We are talking only. Nothing has been agreed. On our part we will not agree to any foreign intervention or military action against an Arab country but we ask the Libyan authorities to refrain from violence and to reach a settlement with the opposition which has proved its strength.

We ask the Libyan authorities to help Egyptians leave. There are difficulties in allowing Egypt flights to bring Egyptians back we are asking the authorities in the Tripoli airport and on Libya's borderers to allow Egyptians to use camps because the weather is very difficult. The Libyan people are hospitable and we expect them to be hospitable to Egyptians because they are our brothers. Egyptians and Libyans are Muslims and Arab brothers. Egypt is trying to send ships which will reach Libya in two or three days but the ships have limited capacity so we need more trips. Until the ships go and come back and flights are able to move Egyptians I ask our sons in Libya to stay at home, to not leave until they are sure there is a chance to travel through flights or ships. They shouldn't expose themselves to danger by going to the airport which is full of people. There are several thousand people in the airport. There is an office of the Foreign Ministry in the airport working with Egypt Air. I ask the Egyptians to go to this office but they have to keep an open mind as there are priorities for booking flights, they shouldn't fight for flights.

QUESTION: There are talks in Europe and Libya about a military presence in Libya.

ABOUL GHEIT: Where did you hear this?

QUESTION: In the Security Council yesterday some opposition Libyan figures approved of military intervention in Libya. Is there an Egyptian or Arab position on this?

ABOUL GHEIT: The Arab League took a position which was a firm position for the first time in its history by suspending Libyan participation in the Arab League.

Let's concentrate on how to get Egyptians out of Libya. This is what Egypt is thinking about.

The Libya/Tunisia border is open and the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli stressed this. I was on the phone yesterday to senior Libyan officials who responded positively. I talked to the President of Libyan Intelligence yesterday and he promised the borders were open so Egyptians can cross into Tunisia which is receiving Egyptians well.

I phoned the Tunisian Foreign Minister and the Algerian Foreign Minister who proved their true commitment to Arabs and Islam by supporting Egyptians who are returning from Libya. Thousands of Egyptians are now flooding into Tunisia and Algeria and are being well received.

Thank you.


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