Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC RN

  • Transcript, E&OE

FRANKELLY: Aninternational conference on the future of Iraq has concluded that the terrorgroup ISIS still poses a real danger to the region and the rest of the world.Foreign Ministers from Coalition countries including Australia have agreed thatwhile ISIS has lost its territorial hold in Iraq, its full and enduring defeatwill only occur when it no longer has safe havens of which to operate. OurForeign Minister Julie Bishop has been attending the talks. She's also been ata separate meeting in Kuwait on the reconstruction of Iraq. That reconstructionas we've been discussing earlier comes with a price tag of more than US$80 billion.I spoke with Julie Bishop earlier this morning from Kuwait.

JULIEBISHOP: Goodmorning Fran.

FRANKELLY: TheIraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIL in December,but the militants still control some territory across the border in Syria. Hasthis meeting of Coalition countries come to the conclusion that the IslamicState will never really be vanquished?

JULIEBISHOP: Thesemeetings come at a very important juncture. ISIS has lost its so-calledcaliphate in territory it had taken from the Iraqi government and that's quitean extraordinary achievement by the Iraqi security forces and local partners inSyria, but ISIS does remain a threat. It can morph into an insurgency, as someforeign terrorist fighters are dispersing and of course we are concerned thatthere could be foreign terrorist fighters returning to our region. We've seenthat in Marawi, in southern Philippines, and so we're monitoring and trackingthose foreign terrorist fighters. But of course ISIS remains a threat and animportant part of ensuring ISIL's durable defeat is stabilising and rebuildingIraq, and that's part of the agenda here as well.

FRANKELLY: You'vespoken of the need to win the peace, otherwise remaining fighters could morphinto what you've called ISIS 2.0. What does winning the peace look like?

JULIEBISHOP: Well,first there must be reconciliation between the different groups in Iraq, Justiceinitiatives that promote social cohesion will also be important. Overtwo-million Iraqis are displaced and we must ensure that they can return homeand also ensure that Iraq's economy recovers. It is a nation that is rich innatural resources but the damaging conflicts over decades now has meant thatthe economy has been shattered and these meetings are about ensuring that theprivate sector will engage in Iraq, that there's stability and certainty andwe'll seek private sector growth in Iraq. So it's been positive from that pointof view. About two thousand private sector representatives turned up for ameeting today in Kuwait so that's a good sign.

FRANKELLY: Arethey oil companies?

JULIEBISHOP: No,a whole range of companies. Infrastructure companies education, healthcare youname it they were here, and I think it's a positive sign that the privatesector recognises a role in building and rebuilding Iraq's economy afterdecades of conflict. While Iraq may well recover and rebuild, the terror threathas not gone away.

FRANKELLY: And isthere any kind of quantifying of how big that threat ISIS still poses in ourregion and other places where as you say returning fighters might be.

JULIEBISHOP: Thereis an estimate that about 40,000 fighters were in Iraq at the height of theconflict. I'm aware that we are tracking about 110 Australian foreign terroristfighters and we think about 220 went to Iraq and Syria but there's still about110 who could make their way back to Australia. So we're focusing on workingwith partners in the region and sharing intelligence and information to ensurethat we can monitor and track those who are likely to return to our region,specifically to Australia.

FRANKELLY: Andwhen you say we are tracking 110 foreign fighters, where are they? Are theyback in Australia, in the Philippines, where are they?

JULIEBISHOP: No,these are the ones who we believe are still in the Middle East and may wellseek to make their way home or the Philippines or elsewhere. It is a challengebut we are working closely with a range of partners to ensure that we can trackthem. And this is not an issue that only Australia has to grapple with,obviously a number of countries, European countries in particular have largenumbers of terrorist fighters, so it's a global effort to defeat this brutalterrorist organisation and ensure that they don't have the capacity to carryout attacks elsewhere.

FRANKELLY: Andwhat does that global effort mean for Coalition countries and troops remainingin Iraq? I think we only have 300 troops deployed at the Taji Base, north ofBaghdad that have been training local forces, will they stay in Iraq?

JULIEBISHOP: That'sright, we do have about 300 defence personnel, working with about 110 NewZealand personnel. Between us we've trained about 30,000 Iraqi Army and police.And they've obviously been successful because they've been part of the retakingof the territory, part of the defeat of ISIS In Iraq, but that trainingcapacity will need to continue. There are challenges still for the Iraqisecurity forces. And Australia has made a commitment that we will stay until atleast 2019, obviously that is under review, constant review, but we still havea role to play. And there's more we can do in helping rebuild Iraq because wedon't want Iraq to be a haven for terrorists and we have much to do insupporting their humanitarian effort for these two million people who are stilldisplaced and about eight-million Iraqis who need some sort of humanitariansupport.

FRANKELLY: Theprice tag of that humanitarian effort in rebuilding Iraq is enormous. It saysthe reconstruction of Iraq will cost in excess of $US88-billion, as you saymore than three-and-a-half million displaced, enormous damage toinfrastructure. Countries have already poured billions into Iraq since theUS-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, but Iraq makes the pitchthat rebuilding is key to restoring the stability of Iraq and the region. Willthere be new pledges from Australia on top of the $100-million you announcedlast year?

JULIEBISHOP: Withinthat $100 million we will be identifying where specific amounts of funding canbe directed. For example the United Nations Development Program has a financingfacility to stabilisation, and that has committed more than $US770 million forover 1,600 projects across Iraq. It is working pretty effectively to create theconditions for people to return home. Tomorrow I will be confirming about $18million of our $100 million will be directed to the United Nations DevelopmentProgram to support those stabilisation efforts in Iraq.

FRANKELLY: You'relistening to RN Breakfast our guest is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, she's inKuwait. Foreign Minister on North Korea the South Korean government is sayingUS officials are indicating they're willing to hold direct negotiations withPyeongyang about its nuclear weapons program. That's despite on the face of itanyway, no steps by the North to disarm, are we seeing a shift in Washington'sapproach to North Korea?

JULIEBISHOP: Imet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today, sorry yesterday to discussthis issue and others and while the US welcomes any lessening of tensions onthe Peninsula, as we do, we have seen that through the attendance of the NorthKoreans at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, the fact remains that NorthKorea is in direct breach of numerous UN Security Council resolutions with itsillegal weapons program and its illegal nuclear program. According to SecretaryTillerson the US are prepared for talks but negotiations is a different matter.I don't think that's changed the US position at all. They're being prepared totalk with North Korea but in the meantime they think that the diplomatic andeconomic pressure is working. It's clearly had an impact on North Korea and soAustralia remains committed to imposing maximum diplomatic and economicpressure on North Korea to bring them back to the negotiating table. Now we'veyet to see any evidence that North Korea is willing to engage in meaningful dialogueand the onus is on North Korea to act in accordance with international laws, tocease its threatening behaviour and cease its nuclear program. But I think theUnited States has always been prepared to talk to North Korea but actuallynegotiating is another matter.

FRANKELLY: Sojust to be clear, you're saying that we could see the US publicly enteringtalks with North Korea, no conditions, no set rules?

JULIEBISHOP: Youcould see that, but negotiations could certainly have conditions.

FRAN KELLY: Can I ask you backhome, bring you back home, and the issues around Barnaby Joyce. Considering thescandals surrounding the National Party leader Barnaby Joyce. Is he the right person to beActing Prime Minister next week when Malcolm Turnbull is in the US?

JULIEBISHOP: WellFran from over here it would appear that there's more than enough commentary onthis matter and I don't intend to add to it from Kuwait but the Prime Minister,I understand, has confirmed that the usual arrangements will apply when he'soverseas, that in his absence, the Deputy Prime Minister is the acting PrimeMinister and I understand that will be the case next week when Prime MinisterTurnbull is in the United States.

FRANKELLY: And doyou think that's appropriate given the scandals surrounding Barnaby Joyce?

JULIEBISHOP: WellI'm not aware of any actual evidence that Barnaby Joyce has misused taxpayerfunds, I'm not aware of any plans for him not to be available next week and soI'm not going to weigh into the debate from overseas.

FRANKELLY: Hasthe Prime Minister spoken to you about being available to do the job?

JULIEBISHOP: Nohe hasn't.

FRANKELLY: Youhaven't offered yourself?

JULIEBISHOP: FranI'm over in Kuwait, in back to back meetings from early in the morning to lateat night and focusing on Australia's military and humanitarian contribution toIraq so it's not a matter that I'm focusing on.

FRANKELLY: Ithink at the moment your schedule has you out of the country next week. If itso happened that Barnaby Joyce was not available anymore be the Acting PrimeMinister would you be available?

JULIEBISHOP: WellFran I am returning to Australia from Kuwait. I do have plans to be overseasnext week, Parliament is not sitting. If circumstances change then of course Iwould change plans but that's not my understanding and indeed the usualprocedures apply. If the Prime Minister is overseas the Deputy Prime Ministeris acting Prime Minister, and if neither is in Australia then it goes down theline. I've been Acting Prime Minister before in those circumstances.

FRANKELLY: MalcolmTurnbull has expressed confidence in Barnaby Joyce, can you say the same?

JULIEBISHOP: YesI can say the same.

FRANKELLY: JulieBishop thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.


- Ends-

Media enquiries