Interview with Tom Connell - First Edition, Sky News Live

  • Transcript, E&OE

TOM CONNELL: A huge day in global politics. Joining me is Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister, here in the studio. Thanks for your time today.

JULIE BISHOP: Pleasure, good to be here.

TOM CONNELL: This meeting today, what is a good and also, I suppose, a realistic outcome out of today?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe both leaders will be looking to secure an agreement that represents real progress in achieving their respective goals. In the case of the United States, that is a complete and verifiable, irreversible dismantling of their ballistic missile program and their nuclear weapons. In the case of North Korea, they'll be looking for some form of economic and security guarantee from the United States and both leaders will want to represent progress towards an enduring, lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. It's hard to imagine what can come from this because we don't know the negotiating parameters of either side. But I would expect the United States will want to see genuine, concrete agreement on the dismantling of the nuclear weapons program and North Korea will be looking for some kind of economic and security guarantee from the United States.

TOM CONNELL: Given some of the talk coming out about, you know, it's going to be a long process and Kim Jong-un's already booked his flight home. I think Donald Trump scrambled to get his out a few hours later. Are we lowering expectations for this particular meeting, that it's more like a face to face type, getting to know each other?

JULIE BISHOP: That is clearly the initial outcome. For the first time a sitting US President is meeting with a leader of North Korea, so that makes it an historic summit in any event. But after the getting to know you period, hopefully there will be a moment when the officials and the advisors can also sit down and work through some concrete steps towards another meeting. I don't expect that you could achieve everything in one hit, I don't think anybody expects that. I think there will be a lot of diplomatic work that will have to be done before there's another meeting, should there be another meeting, but our expectations should be that some progress will be made.

TOM CONNELL: Donald Trump, I think it's fair to say, can be somewhat whimsical. A very different style. Is there a concern that he might make an agreement, an agreement by word today, for example, to pull out US troops out of South Korea? Would that be a concern?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't want to pre-empt the US negotiating position, but clearly the United States would want to see concrete, verifiable steps towards the dismantling of the nuclear weapons program in particular. That presents the greatest risk to our region, and indeed globally. We also want to see North Korea be a law-abiding citizen. It is in breach of numerous UN Security Council resolutions by developing an advanced ballistic missile program and advanced nuclear weapons program. So North Korea has a long way to go to convince the world that it can be trusted to dismantle its programs. And I think the key will be, what do both leaders mean by denuclearisation and what kind of verification regime can be put in place? Because in the past, North Korea has agreed to allow independent investigators in to see its program, and then reneged on those deals. So verification will be the key. The agreement will only be as good as the strength of the verification process put in place.

TOM CONNELL: Four previous agreements they've given, or undertakings. Most recent in 2005 and 2008. So how do we get more of a concrete agreement? Has it just got to be incremental, and as each step comes up, each country agrees to carry out the act, and until that happens...

JULIE BISHOP : Well, we'll see what is achieved today. If there could be a timetable or a pathway, a series of steps that have to be taken by both sides, that the international community can verify, step by step, that would be an incredible outcome given where we started only two years ago when President Trump first was elected, well, coming up two years ago.

TOM CONNELL: Kim Jong-un made a big show of inviting foreign media in to show the apparent dismantling of the testing site in North Korea, but there's been a lot of reports about- I can see you're already shaking your head about the voracity of that. Where do you see that going?

JULIE BISHOP: We have to remain sceptical about that. The blowing up of a site is one thing, but to actually have independent investigators in from the International Atomic Energy Agency, for example, to check what was actually dismantled in that blast is absolutely necessary before we could give it any credence at all.

TOM CONNELL: The existential threat for the US – remember, this is Donald Trump negotiating I suppose in one sense on behalf of the world – but the existential threat for them; intercontinental missiles in terms of that reach. Now, if there was an agreement first of all to give them up, and for North Korea to have nuclear weapons for quite a time afterwards, would that be an acceptable outcome?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, let's see if North Korea is first going to commit to some form of independent verification of its program. That would be a start, and then the dismantling of the program. Now, whether North Korea would be able to keep its nuclear weapons is obviously a matter of conjecture, because that's the aim: to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. It has been a rogue state, it is in defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. It needs to become a law-abiding nation once more, and this summit is the very first step down that path. Hopefully we see an outcome that gives us hope that North Korea will come back into the international community and give up its nuclear weapons, and certainly give up threatening its neighbours and threatening to send ballistic missiles to continental USA.

TOM CONNELL: Donald Trump seemed to almost boast that he didn't really do much preparation for this meeting and the start of the meeting is a one-on-one interpreter's only. Does that make you nervous?

JULIE BISHOP: Well those interpreters will certainly have a story to sell, won't they, in years to come? But that's his style. It is unorthodox. We haven't seen this before, particularly with the US President, but if that far more informal arrangement where he meets one-on-one to get the measure of the man, I think that's what it's all about, if that succeeds and then another meeting with officials and advisors who can actually script out what has been agreed, then that would be real progress.

TOM CONNELL: So one-on-one might work at a rapport level, and then down the track you'd hope there's a whole lot of people in the room?

JULIE BISHOP: That's not unusual in the diplomatic world where the leaders meet - it's called a tete-a-tete - the leaders meet one on one just for some informal discussions and then you go into the more formal meeting. This is a little different because the leaders have not met before and I don't think the agenda for that part of the meeting has been released to anyone. So nobody knows what they're going to discuss, what the topics are for that part of the meeting. But when the advisors and others are present, obviously that will be scripted and recorded. The interpreters will be the only ones who can tell us what actually went on if the leaders don't.

TOM CONNELL: I want to ask you as well, when you see some of these pictures, Kim Jong-un looks almost to be feted at the moment over in Singapore. The fuss about him, is it a bit uncomfortable seeing a man who's been tyrannical, probably millions died because of starvation there, the assassination of the own members of his family. Is it uncomfortable watching the way the spotlight is quite soft on him at the moment?

JULIE BISHOP: It is a brutal regime. The human rights record of North Korea is utterly appalling. The long-suffering people of North Korea have been denied basic food and nutrition while Kim Jong-un has been building an advanced nuclear weapons program and a ballistic missile program. And this is one of the concerns that we've always had, that Kim Jong-un should be directing his efforts and energy in scarce resources to the betterment of his people, rather than being a threat, a danger to our region and the globe. So, to see him wandering around Singapore is, of course, rather uncomfortable for everybody.

I was in contact with Vivian Balakrishnan, the Singaporean Foreign Minister, who had the task of escorting him around, and Vivian indicated that both leaders are very positive about securing some kind of outcome and are wanting to be able to achieve a deal today that represents real progress. So, apart from the sightseeing, let's hope that we can see some real effort made to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

TOM CONNELL: Did he give an insight as to what he's like in person?

JULIE BISHOP: Vivian Balakrishnan didn't go into that sort of detail. He's been a Foreign Minister for some time. I've got to know him pretty well over the years, but we were talking more about the, well we were texting, also about the context of the meeting and what's likely to be achieved and he felt sure that both leaders were determined to secure a deal that would represent progress.

TOM CONNELL: Just finally, can I ask you, is there a lesson here for the world? Because North Korea very gradually, incrementally, bit by bit, got this leverage and now we're in a position where we have to deal with Kim Jong-un, that the next time we see this coming, we've got to act more firmly? It might be unpalatable at the time, but not allow this to happen again.

JULIE BISHOP : There are many lessons to be learned. The previous approach of "strategic patience" clearly acted against the global interest, because it was during that period that Kim Jong-un was able to develop such an advanced ballistic missile program and they now have a capability, we believe, of causing real harm, real risk, to the US and indeed Australia would be in that sphere. So it's a lesson in that Kim Jong-un was able to continue to disregard numerous UN Security Council resolutions, and also it was when we put sector-wide, economy-wide sanctions on North Korea - this maximum economic, political, diplomatic pressure - that we saw North Korea change its behaviours. So the international community working together in exerting pressure on North Korea has brought us to this negotiating moment today.

TOM CONNELL: We'll see what comes out of it. I'm not sure whether to be excited or not, but it should be fascinating.

JULIE BISHOP : A great deal of anticipation.

TOM CONNELL: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, thanks for your time today.

JULIE BISHOP : Thank you.

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