Transcript of press conference, Jerusalem

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Subjects: Visit to the Middle East, Libya, Peace Process

6 March 2011

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd: It's good to be back in Jerusalem and it's good to be back, of course, in the Middle East.

In the last 24 hours or so I have been in Jordan speaking with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister; in the Palestinian Authority speaking with the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and today in Israel with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Defence Minister, the Foreign Minister and just now with Tzipi Livni from Kadima.

More broadly, in the last period of time I've also been in Egypt and speaking with the authorities there, and in Geneva for meetings of the Human Rights Council, and for discussions with Secretary of State Clinton, the British Foreign Secretary and others on developments in Libya.

Let me be very blunt about Libya. What we see now, with the actions taken by the Libyan regime, is in flagrant violation of any principle of international law and of international decency, on the part of the state against its people.

There is already a reference by the UN Security Council of the Libyan regime to the International Criminal Court. Those in Libya who followed the orders of Qaddafi to pull the trigger against their own people are also liable for prosecution by the International Criminal Court. It is not just the regime issuing the orders, it is those pulling the trigger in response to directions by the regime. What we see is unprecedented violence being meted out to the people of Libya. This is unacceptable, it is potentially criminal behavior, and that reference to the Criminal Court has already occurred.

Two other points I'd make. One is that when it comes to the humanitarian outflow from Libya itself, the international community has responsibilities to support Egypt and Tunisia, and the international organisations now stationed on both borders to support refugees in the outflow. If this violence continues, I believe we can expect further outflow of people, including Libyans themselves seeking to escape this violence. Therefore, organisations like the High Commissioner for Human Rights, organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross, need to be maximally supported. We in Australia have provided emergency funding support for these organisations given the challenges they now face on the ground, seeking to support hundreds of thousands of people.

My final point is this: the actions by the Libyan military, including their air force, reinforce the position of the Australian Government. We have argued now for the last week and more that the time for a no-fly zone has come. The international community must rise to this challenge. The UN Security Council must rise to this challenge. NATO must rise to this challenge. We must do everything physically possible to protect the civilian population of Libya.

These are difficult and dangerous times for the good people of Libya who do not deserve the inhumane treatment they are receiving from the Qaddafi regime. I welcome the reported comments of the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé in what he has said in the last 24 hours and preparatory work for a new UNSC resolution. We welcome that, we support that. I know the obstacles still exist, but we must proceed in this direction.

Okay folks, over to you.

Anne Barker, ABC: Are we now looking at a civil war in Libya?

Mr Rudd: I've said for the last week we're looking at a civil war in Libya. And the thing about civil wars is that those who suffer the worst consequences are the civilian population. Therefore, it is incumbent on the international community to use the means at its disposal to maximally protect the civilian population. That means the logic for a no-fly zone becomes clearer and clearer and clearer.

Anne Barker, ABC: But is a no-fly zone itself enough to stop the violence?

Mr Rudd: It is the next step available to the international community in reducing the impact on the civilian population. It also sends a clear message to the Libyan regime, and those who are following orders from Qaddafi at present that the international community is as one.

I would emphasise one other point. In the recent meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, the Arab League also embraced the possibility of a no-fly zone themselves. If the member states of the Arab League are prepared to embrace the possibility of a no-fly zone, the international community at large should also recognise that fact and consider appropriate actions which come from that.

Anne Barker, ABC: But do you think Qaddafi's forces would respect a no-fly zone?

Mr Rudd: Whether they respect it or not is beside the point.

We have a regime in Libya which is defying all principles of international humanitarian law and all principles of basic human decency. The function of a no-fly zone is two-fold: One, to provide maximum protection for people on the ground who suffer the potential of air attacks against them. Secondly, to send a message to the regime itself and those taking the orders from Qaddafi, that the international community is not backing away, the international community is taking the actions available to it to support the people of Libya.

Michael Schwartz, CNN: After your meeting with the parties in the region today, are we likely to get some kind of movement this week in the peace process?

Mr Rudd: Well that of course is a matter for the parties themselves; it's a matter for the Government of Israel; it's a matter of course for the Palestinian Authority; it's a matter for the Quartet.

What I would say more broadly is this; the large-scale political changes currently underway in the Middle East underline the importance of action to bring about a comprehensive peace settlement. These movements, these political movements across the region, add to the urgency of reaching an outcome; they do not argue in favour of deferral of an outcome.

But I say again, we in Australia, together with other members of the international community, our responsibility is to support the peace process, and in doing so, of course, we engage all parties to it.

Michael Schwartz, CNN: You were here three months ago. Have you seen any change in the Prime Minister's position, in Netanyahu's position?

Mr Rudd: My conversations with the Israeli Prime Minister always have been and will in the future be confidential. The Israeli Prime Minister is dealing with challenges which he now confronts, given the large scale political changes which have already occurred in Egypt, and also broader and continuing threats to this country's security from Iran and the wider threat which Iran represents to the security of the Middle East.

But on the detailed position of the Israeli Prime Minister, that's a matter for him and the Government of Israel; it's a matter of course for the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas with whom I spoke yesterday. We and other like-mindeds around the world continue to actively support the peace process and engage in appropriate private dialogue with all the parties.

Josh Lederman, AP: Over the past week the Prime Minister's Office has floated the idea of an interim state for the Palestinians? Is that a plan that Australia would be amenable to?

Mr Rudd: Well the key question of course which arises from what you say is what the content of any such proposal would be. At present, of course, there is no detail surrounding a, the inevitability of such a plan; and b, its content. Our response in Australia is always take things step-by-step, see what comes out.

Of course, the key challenge is how do we deal, and how do the parties deal, with the classically defined final status issues affecting the future of an independent, secure Israeli state and an independent and secure Palestinian state. Those final status issues are known to all and cannot be pushed to the margins.

Steve Weizman, AFP: Without going into details Minister, did you in your talks with the Prime Minister raise your concerns about settlements.

Mr Rudd: I don't go into those details, because my relationship with the Israeli Government is longstanding, with the Prime Minister it's longstanding in various positions he and I have held over a long period of time. Therefore I leave those deliberations to themselves.

Of course, the wider question of settlements is a continuing issue in the international debate, as are the broader questions concerning the final status issues which I referred to before.

Thank you.

ENDS

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