ABC RN Breakfast, interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE
26 September 2017

JOURNALIST: Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is in Washington for talks now with the Trump administration, she joins us in the middle of a busy round of meetings. Foreign Minister thanks for your time.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Fran, good to be with you.

JOURNALIST: The North Korean Foreign Minister stood on US soil at the UN General Assembly and accused the US of declaring war on his country. This verbal tit-for-tat is getting more and more heated. The UN Secretary General has warned that a rise in rhetoric between North Korea and the US increases the risk of miscalculation. Do you share his fears?

JULIE BISHOP: North Korea have been violating UN Security Council resolutions for years now, long before President Trump came into office, and North Korea's illegal behaviour has been escalating for years. The tensions on the Korean Peninsula are as a result of North Korea's continued defiance of UN Security Council resolutions that demand it cease from its proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing.

JOURNALIST: Well that's true but what's different now is the diplomatic talk is gone and we have this kind of rising heated rhetoric which is concerning everybody. Do you share the fears of the UN Secretary General that there is a risk of miscalculation in this kind of talk?

JULIE BISHOP: Well there's always been a risk of miscalculation on the part of North Korea. I have been talking with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the President and others in New York last week and I'm meeting with members of the Administration and Congress in Washington today. The collective strategy is to increase the diplomatic, political and economic pressure and to ensure that sanctions have an impact over time. They will prevent, ultimately, North Korea being able to fund its illegal nuclear weapons and missile programs. There will be a python-like constriction on North Korea's ability to continue to develop nuclear weapons and missiles that are a direct threat not only to our region but a global security threat and we're fully committed to implementing those sanctions.

So while the President's rhetoric is, as Secretary Tillerson says, in a language that North Korea understands, the collective strategy is to increase the political, diplomatic and particularly economic pressure.

JOURNALIST: The tactics, part of that, the US President set up bombers and fighter escorts to fly over the coast of DPRK on the weekend, North Korea is now threatening to shoot them down even if these US planes are not in the North Korean airspace – is it troubling? Do you think it will come to that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the United States and its allies, particularly South Korea and Japan, want to deter North Korea from carrying out any more tests and compel them back to the negotiating table. There will be deterrence action taken to send a very, very powerful message to North Korea that it can't continue to escalate the development of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs but the economic sanctions are designed to compel them back to the negotiating table and as I pointed out it's going to take some time – weeks, months, years – for these economic sanctions to have the ultimate impact. That's why it's so important for all nations to fully implement the sanctions – particularly the permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia and we've seen a significant effort on China's part to commit to implementing those sanctions and that is a different scenario than we've seen before.

JOURNALIST: We don't have the benefit of the talks you've had but as we watch on and listen to this rhetoric I suppose people listening would like to ask you, do you believe we're sliding inevitably towards some sort of military conflict on the peninsula?

JULIE BISHOP: No, I believe that North Korea can be deterred. I don't think there's anything inevitable about this current circumstance. Obviously, if North Korea were to follow through on its rhetoric and attack, there would be a retaliation. The consequences would be obvious but there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to ensure that the strategy of diplomatic, political and economic pressure does bring North Korea to the negotiating table.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, on another issue, we've been speaking there about this independence referendum that's occurred overnight in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq, if that's passed are you concerned about the consequences because we've had the Iraqi Prime Minister saying not only will Iraq not recognise the outcome, he would not allow Iraq to be broken up. The Turkish President is threatening to send in troops, they've already got military exercises on the border. The fear is this could trigger another conflict in the region, do you share those concerns?

JULIE BISHOP: Of course, this has escalated tensions in the region considerably. Last week in New York there was considerable discussion and dialogue about seeking to persuade the Kurdish government from not proceeding with this referendum. They have gone ahead, it's underway. The results won't be known for a while but the timing was not good, in fact it was very difficult timing, but whatever the outcome we have to call for calm and for there to be substantial change to the Kurdish regional government and status it has to be negotiated with Iraq. Yes, the Government of Iraq is deeply concerned. I met with Foreign Minister Jaafari last week and we discussed the consequences of the referendum. At that time they were still seeking to convince the Kurds to delay it but the Iraqi government and the Kurdish leaders must work together to resolve the differences and of course ISIS remains a serious threat and we need both Erbil and Baghdad to work together to defeat ISIS so that some calm can be brought back to Iraq.

JOURNALIST: And Minister, finally, we are out of time but on the US refugee resettlement deal 54 asylum seekers will leave for the US this week, have you got any assurances from the US that they will take all 1200 they originally agreed to resettle - just briefly.

JULIE BISHOP: This has always been subject to the United States going through its vetting process. The first group are departing for the US in the coming weeks they are committed to processing the applications of other refugees that will continue. We have a long history of cooperation with the United States over resettlement of refugees and I expect that to continue.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop thank you very much for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

- Ends -

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