Doorstop interview - New York

  • Transcript, E&OE
19 September 2017

JULIE BISHOP: On my second day at the United Nations General Assembly Leaders' Week I attended the opening session where the Secretary-General addressed the Plenary session as well as President Trump and others. I have had long and extensive meetings with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. On a bilateral basis I've met with the Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sogavare, and I met the Italian Foreign Minister to discuss an upcoming visit to Australia and I met with President Trump, Ambassador Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, over lunch. And we have a busy afternoon where I will be representing Australia at a number of events including in relation to our efforts to stamp out human trafficking and modern slavery. I'll also be attending a Commonwealth reception hosted by Prime Minister May of the United Kingdom and I'll be attending a reception this evening hosted by President Trump and the First Lady. I'll also be attending and making a statement at a climate advocacy group meeting.

JOURNALIST: Minister if I could ask you about the speech, Mr Trump said its allies will have no choice but to totally destroy Korea if it's forced to defend itself. How does that square with Australia's view of things?

JULIE BISHOP: President Trump has been focusing on North Korea's illegal behaviour and its weapons and nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and it is in direct defiance of the Security Council. The President's speech is about calling out this illegal behaviour and calling on the international community to continue to condemn North Korea and ensure that sufficient pressure is put on North Korea so that it returns to the negotiating table. The last thing anybody wants is for there to be conflict on the Korean Peninsula. The President made it quite clear that the consequences of that would be catastrophic.

JOURNALIST: What did you make of the comment that he's a "Rocket Man on a suicide mission"?

JULIE BISHOP: The President is highlighting the illegal nature of Kim Jong-un's regime in carrying out numerous, multiple ballistic missile tests and nuclear tests in defiance of international law and defiance of the UN Security Council resolutions. I think the focus should be on North Korea's behaviour rather than the way the President may or may not describe him.

JOURNALIST: But is it empty rhetoric, though, the threat of military action?

JULIE BISHOP: We are focusing on political, diplomatic and economic pressure and the United States has been leading the efforts to ensure that the Security Council votes unanimously in favour of the toughest and most comprehensive set of economic sanctions to be imposed on North Korea. So the focus has to be on ensuring that the political and diplomatic and economic pressure is brought to bear by the entire international community because North Korea's behaviour represents not just a threat to our region, it is a global security risk.

JOURNALIST: The US has promised not to do business with those countries that are doing business with North Korea. Is that a stance that Australia would take and obviously it causes us problems with China?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is urging all countries to abide by the UN Security Council sanctions that have been unanimously endorsed, but also to pursue autonomous sanctions. Australia has our sanctions against North Korea under continual review. We have sanctions against about 37 individuals, about 31 entities, but we are continually assessing whether or not we should put further sanctions on individuals and entities. Of course we urge all countries to abide by the very broad and very comprehensive range of sanctions that have been endorsed and agreed upon by the UN Security Council.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the President gave a very strong hint that he would pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran. What would Australia think of that?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has consistently said that the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, is the best available option. It's not perfect but it's the best available option and we would certainly encourage the United States to work with Iran to ensure that the terms of that agreement are upheld.

JOURNALIST: Minister, I have a question about is it Australia's interests in conflict resolution in Eastern Europe - Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia. Do you plan any involvement in this conflict resolution process?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is a strong promoter and defender of the international rules-based order and where the international rules-based order is under threat then Australia will speak out. We are a strong promoter and defender of this in our region. In the case of Ukraine when there was a breach of Ukraine's sovereignty we were among the first countries to take action and agree to sanctions against Russia. We don't recognise the annexation by Russia of Crimea. So Australia is always prepared to uphold the international rules-based order when it comes to sovereignty and territorial integrity.

JOURNALIST: Mr Trump was critical of the Human Rights Council in his speech. What does the US think about Australia's candidacy, and if Australia does get a position, will Australia be working with the US in the way it approaches it?

JULIE BISHOP: I have met with Ambassador Nikki Haley on a couple of occasions to discuss Australia's candidacy for the Human Rights Council and we were most certainly encouraged by the United States to take part in the Human Rights Council. Australia and other like-minded countries who are open, liberal democracies committed to democratic institutions, freedoms and the rule of law should serve on the Human Rights Council and I believe that's a view shared by the United States. I will be attending a session this afternoon that is being chaired by Ambassador Nikki Haley about Human Rights Council reforms and we certainly support pragmatic and principled ways of improving the operations and the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council. We are willing to serve on the Council, we are hoping that we will receive a majority of votes to enable us to do so. The vote is in October this year and we hope to serve for two years on the Human Rights Council.

JOURNALIST: Minister, can you give us a sense of how Mr Trump's comments from this morning were received by other world leaders?

JULIE BISHOP: At the lunch meeting today, the President spoke about the challenges facing the UN and facing the UN Security Council and there seemed to be a considerable level of agreement. I spoke to the President about his speech and about his comments on North Korea. We had a rather detailed discussion about what options are available to the international community and what is Kim Jong Un's end-game and I also spoke to Ambassador Haley and she said that parts of the President's speech have been warmly received. In fact, if you were present, there were times when there was spontaneous applause. He put in context some of his past comments, for example he clarified the "America First" by equating it to the responsibility of all national governments to put the interests of their nations and their citizens first. Indeed he was highly critical of the governments that disregard the welfare of their own citizens and disregard the national interest of their country.

JOURNALIST: Did you have any concerns about the speech and did you raise those with the President when you spoke to him?

JULIE BISHOP: I certainly didn't raise any concerns with the President. We spoke more generally about the challenges with North Korea. We discussed a range of topics, but we most certainly focused on the challenges facing North Korea and the international –

JOURNALIST: Can you give us a bit more detail into exactly what was said?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it was a private conversation but we discussed specifically the issue with North Korea, and again, the illegal behaviour of Kim Jong-Un's regime in its continual defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. There have been six illegal nuclear weapons tests, there have been about 88 or more ballistic missile tests, all in direct defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. And the Permanent Members of the Security Council, indeed the entire international community, cannot allow continued defiance of UN Security Council resolutions to go on. That's why we're part of the sanctions regime, why we're part of the collective strategy to impose sufficient pressure on North Korea that it changes its behaviour.

JOURNALIST: Did the President comment on Australia's approach to North Korea?

JULIE BISHOP: We spoke generally about our support for the collective strategy of diplomatic, political and economic pressure on North Korea.

JOURNALIST: Yesterday Minister you spoke about waiting for the sanctions to bite, how long do you think that will take?

JULIE BISHOP: It depends on the sanctions. Some of them are immediate prohibitions for the importation of North Korean products and commodities, others will take time, for example the prohibition on work visas for North Koreans. The sanctions allow existing contracts to be completed, and thereafter no further visas, so this will take some time depending upon the length of the contracts. But there's a prohibition on new joint ventures with North Korean entities and individuals. Also, some countries have to introduce domestic legislation to embrace the sanctions and that can take time. So I believe that the sanctions regime which is the toughest and most comprehensive, still has to be given time to work to really put the pressure on North Korea so that it will be compelled to return to the negotiating table.

Media enquiries