Doorstop interview - New York

  • Transcript, E&OE

FOREIGNMINISTER TodayI attended two important meetings of the United Nations Security Council, bothof vital importance to Australia.

Thismorning, I attended the briefing on the downing of MH17 and the progress of theinvestigation. Foreign Minister FransTimmermans of the Netherlands and Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and Iall spoke of the progress in the criminal investigation to find thoseresponsible for the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines 17 where 298 passengersand crew were killed, including 38 people who called Australia home. We made it quite clear that we will nottolerate any efforts by Russia to discredit the investigation and there wassupport around the Security Council and among other nations present for theDutch-led international investigation. There has been a preliminary report andthat report is consistent with the Australian Government's assessment that MH17was downed by surface-to-air missile from within eastern Ukraine, theRussian-backed separatist held area.

Thisafternoon I have taken part in a debate in the Security Council initiated bySecretary John Kerry on Iraq. It wasunambiguous that there was considerable support for the Iraqi Government andits fight against the murderous terrorist organisation ISIL. I reaffirmed Australia's commitment to beprepared to deploy aircraft, Special Forces, and continue to providehumanitarian relief to assist Iraq in its fight against ISIL and its ilk.

Infact, I committed a further $2 million to the United Nations Population Fundspecifically to support women and girls who have been brutalised by ISIL duringthis conflict. This support will be for reproductive and other health servicesand this is in addition to the $5 million in humanitarian support thatAustralia has already provided to Iraq.

Thedebate is on-going, but it is quite evident that there is a significant levelof support for the Iraqi Government in its fight against ISIL. There are 40 nations represented today whowill be speaking. Secretary Kerry spoke of the coalition of some 50 nations whohave indicated their support for the Iraqi Government.

TheForeign Minister of Iraq also spoke of their efforts to ensure that this is aninclusive government that is sharing power and resources across therepresentation in government. And hereaffirmed their commitment to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL and to takeback territory that it has claimed. Thisis a brutal organisation the likes of which we have not seen before, and therewas a determination on the part of all nations present to support Iraq in itsfight to combat ISIL.

QUESTION Is military actionrequired in Syria to really put down the Islamic State?

FOREIGN MINISTER The United States hasindicated that it will trace ISIL beyond the boundaries of Iraq, but Australiahas committed to a strategy that is focused on Iraq and our support will be forthe Iraqi Government.

QUESTION If we're fair dinkumabout it, why wouldn't we commit to any military action in Syria?

FOREIGN MINISTER We have been invitedin by the Iraqi Government and we will be taking part in any mission, should itbe organised by the United States, with the consent of the Iraqi Government.That is not the case with Syria.

QUESTION Are you concernedthat the military intervention cannot succeed given the limitations placed onit by the United States on their own troops on the ground?

FOREIGN MINISTER I believe that thestrategy outlined by the United States is clear. I believe that it isachievable. Australia has weighed the risks. We think we have a prudent andproportionate role to play in this and we are prepared to act in support of theIraqi Government, and we believe that this strategy can achieve its goal.

QUESTION Speaking of thatproportional role, are you concerned that Saudi Arabia and some of the GulfStates have not contributed what is being termed kinetic energy?

FOREIGN MINISTER Saudi Arabia hasalready contributed something like half a billion dollars and…

QUESTION But not troops, notairstrikes?

FOREIGN MINISTER …and they're yet tospeak in the debate today. I note that France has undertaken air strikes. Thatwas announced today. So as Secretary Kerry has made plain, the coalition isbuilding day by day and we expect that by the time President Obama holds theforeign fighters debate on Wednesday, there will be even more nations who havecommitted, should an operation go ahead.

QUESTION Minister, what isyour understanding of how the French strikes came out? Is this beingcoordinated by the United States? Is this something France did on its own? Andif that's the case, is Australia in a situation where it can identify its owntargets, make those decisions? Or are we only acting under the direction of theUS?

FOREIGN MINISTER It's in coordinationwith the Iraqi Government and with the support of the United States. So the United States obviously has thelogistics, the intelligence, the detail that is required, but it is incoordination with the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION How soon couldAustralia launch air strikes if the French are doing it? Are we talking daysaway, weeks, Foreign Minister?

FOREIGN MINISTER We have pre-deployedat this stage. We are in preparation, but we're waiting for a specific strategyand mission that Australia believes it could undertake. We will not be taking action until the matterhas been considered by the National Security committee of the Cabinet andconsidered by Cabinet. So what we're doing at this stage is preparing andpre-deploying into the United Arab Emirates. But if there is a request from theIraqi Government to support the US in an intervention, then that will beconsidered by the National Security Committee.

QUESTION John Kerry mentionedIran, that he would like for them to get involved as well. That might be goodfor America to have Iran's support these days, so do you think that they mightcall on countries such as Australia to act mediators?

FOREIGN MINISTER I believe thatcountries of the Middle East, countries of the Arab world who will all be askedto contribute in some way. And there aremany countries in the Middle East and in the region who could act as afacilitator should that be necessary. The countries are being asked tocontribute militarily, non-militarily, in a humanitarian way. There is much to be done to starve ISIL offighters, and arms, ammunition, and funds. And so it's not just kinetic activity, it's not just military activitythat's required. There's a lot to be done in non-military activity. I spoke in my statement about the action thatAustralian security and law enforcement agencies had taken in recent days inAustralia to disrupt the activities of groups inspired by ISIL who would doharm in Australia. And this is an issuefor a number of countries, not only in our region but beyond.

QUESTION How long as wecommitting to this?

FOREIGN MINISTER The mission has notbeen identified in terms of the timeframe, but before we commit, we would wantto know the resources that would be required, what assets would need to bedeployed and the time frame in which to operate, but I would imagine that itwould take some time. It's not a matter of days.

QUESTION Previous commitmentsin that region have lasted in some cases more than a decade. Is that somethingthat Australia's prepared to commit to?

FOREIGN MINISTER This is not a matterof regime change. This is not a matterof nation building. It is supporting anelected Iraqi Government, and the focus is on disrupting and destroying ISILand its activities. The brutality cannotcontinue. The beheadings and theexecutions, the potential genocide against minorities must stop. And that's why Australia has joined in theinternational effort to call for as many countries as possible to rid the worldof this affront to humanity.

QUESTION General Dempsey saysthat it could take up to a decade. Is that something Australia is prepared tocommit to?

FOREIGN MINISTER Australia is prepared to look at a specificmission, specific operations. We wouldweigh the risks, we would consider what was a prudent, proportionate role. We would assess what equipment, resources andpersonnel would be required, and we would work out a timeframe that we wereprepared to commit to, but we haven't reached that point. As I've said, it would return to the NationalSecurity Committee and Cabinet for that kind of consideration.

QUESTION Will AustralianSpecial Forces be involved in combat roles? President Obama has signalled thatUS troops will not be involved in a combat role.

FOREIGN MINISTER The Australian SpecialForces are there to assist and advise, they'll be embedded in headquarters. They are assisting, advising should thatrequest be made. At this stage they are being deployed to the UAE, they havenot been asked to undertake any specific missions.

QUESTION So then where do youuse for targeted aid? Have you heardanything here today that you would call back to the Prime Minister that youthink that you would have to increase the aid even further?

FOREIGN MINISTER I've not heard anything today nor has therebeen any request for us to go any further. You may have heard Secretary Kerrythank Australia for the contribution that we have stated that we are preparedto make. We've not been asked to provideany more, indeed we've not yet been asked to undertake any particularoperation. We were requested by theUnited States to provide a list of what we could offer in the internationaleffort to combat ISIL and we've provided that list relating to aircraft and personneland now we await the Iraqi Government's request for us to undertake operations.In the meantime, the humanitarian effort must continue and there have beenpledges today to continue to support those who have been brutalised andslaughtered and clearly there are almost two million displaced people insideIraq who need support.

QUESTION So the bottom linehere for an Australian Foreign Minister is that you're awaiting an Iraqirequest – am I reading that accurately?

FOREIGN MINISTER That's right. The Iraqi Foreign Minister is here representingthe Iraqi Government. We will operate incooperation with Iraq, this is why it's different from previous occasions whenthe Iraqi Government was the problem. Inthis instance we are working with the Iraqi Government with their invitation,with their consent, and in cooperation with the United States-led interventionshould that occur. And I stress that weare still awaiting President Obama's speech and the debate that will occur onWednesday, Prime Minister Abbott will be here for that and I imagine that afterthat time there will be an assessment of the number of countries, the rolesthat they will undertake and then Australia will be able to make a decision asto what we believe is prudent and proportionate for our country. Not forgetting at any time that we believethere are about sixty Australian citizens currently fighting with ISIL, withAustralian citizens figuring prominently in the leadership, we believe thereare around a hundred people in Australia supporting, facilitating this terroristorganisation and there are many, many more in our region including Indonesia,Malaysia and beyond. So, this is an issue not just for Syria and Iraq, this isan issue not just for the Middle East, it's an issue for Australia, our region;the globe.

QUESTION Have any of yourcolleagues asked about the counter-terrorism raids?

FOREIGN MINISTER Have any of mycolleagues asked…?

QUESTION Any of yourcolleagues here, your Ministerial colleagues?

FOREIGN MINISTER My Foreign Ministercounterparts? I have had discussions about it just in the margins today. There was considerable interest. I am meeting with my British and Frenchcounterparts because they likewise, are deeply concerned at the significantnumber, far in excess the number in Australia, deeply concerned about thesignificant number of foreign fighters and potential foreign fighters that areeither in Iraq and Syria now or likely to return home or are in fact back inthe United Kingdom or France, but there was interest in this.

QUESTION Minister could justadd articulate how does going to war, if we can term it that, in Iraq help ourdomestic security in terms of foreign fighters coming home? Another response,for example, may be just to beef up our local intelligence agency, could you explainhow…

FOREIGN MINISTER We are beefing upour local intelligence agencies; indeed the Australian Government has committed$630 million in new funding to enhance our security and intelligence and lawenforcement and customs and border protection agencies. So Australia is focusing very heavily on thedomestic security threat. Indeed, theissue of foreign fighters is the gravest domestic security threat thatAustralia has faced in some time. And sowe are certainly focusing our efforts on that. But it's a multipronged approach, you can't just assume that defeatingthe foreign fighters in Australia is the end of the story. There are 60 Australians in Iraq now and wehave to focus on them as well. If theycome back to Australia we need to be able to take action. That's why we're seeking to expand thelegislative powers including giving me the authority to suspend passports. Currently I can cancel or refuse to provide apassport but we're looking for an opportunity to suspend to enable theauthorities to carry out the investigations.

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