Joint press briefing with Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, Frans Timmermans

  • Transcript, E&OE

FRANS TIMMERMANS Good evening andwelcome to the Dutch Embassy. My Australian colleague, Minister Bishop and Ihave spent a long and fruitful day here in Kyiv. It is very important for us asthe Netherlands and for Australia as one of our most important partners in thisendeavour that today the Netherlands was officially put in charge of theinvestigation.

We signed amemorandum of understanding with the Government of Ukraine. This will nowenable us to take up the full responsibility for the investigation. But it goeswithout saying that the Netherlands will do this in a broad international teamand we especially highly value the cooperation with Australia both because wehave the same goal. Our main goal is to bring our people home as soon as wecan. We have the same sentiments in our societies. People want their loved onesto come back home. We have the same view on the need to find out what hashappened and we share the same international inspiration because thanks toJulie Bishop, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution whichenables us to do this work in Ukraine.

So I'm actually veryhappy with the results of today's visits. We also talked at great length withour Ukrainian counterparts but also with the representatives of the OSCE abouthow we can improve the operation of recovering the remains.

Because that isreally critical operation and I must say that I have great admiration for boththe way the Ukrainian Government has handled the issue and supported us and theway the OSCE has been extremely helpful. The fact that now we have thisbreathtaking ceremony in Eindhoven yesterday which Julie and I attended, andagain repetition of the same ceremony today, was only possible because of thestrong support and cooperation of the Ukrainian authorities and the OSCE.

JULIE BISHOP Thanks Frans. Ladiesand gentlemen, yesterday the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands and I alongwith many dignitaries from both our countries and the international community,attended one of the most moving and dignified ceremonies that one could imaginewhich represented the beginning of the journey home for the victims of the aircrash on the 17th of July. And today, Foreign Minister Timmermans and Itravelled to Ukraine in order to start the process of implementing the terms ofthe UN Security Council resolution authored by Australia, and passedunanimously by the UNSC and co-sponsored by nations including the Netherlands.

The terms includeensuring that the site of the crash is secured, that the bodies are recovered,and we were united in our determination to ensure that all 298 are accountedfor. That the personal belongings of the passengers and crew who died on thatcrash are recovered and returned to the families and that an investigation intothe cause of the crash can be commenced. And today, wherever we went, we weremet with such incredible goodwill and everyone had the same goal. And that isto be able to give assurance to the families in the countries affected that weare in the process of bringing their loved ones home.

I want to pay tributeto President Poroshenko and to the Foreign Minister, the Deputy Prime Ministerand all of the authorities and representatives of the Ukrainian government forthey have been unstinting in their support. They are wholeheartedly supportingour efforts to recover the bodies, bring them home and commence aninvestigation in to this crash. The moment when my colleague, Foreign MinisterTimmermans and President Poroshenko, signed the agreement transferringresponsibility for the investigation to the Netherlands was indeed asignificant milestone in what has been a harrowing week.

I also want to thankthe representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europewho met with us and assured us that they were also committed to working withthe Netherlands, Australia, Ukraine and all of the parties involved to ensurethat we can meet our goals.

I want to thank my colleague,the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, whose personal commitment anddedication and energy has been truly inspiring. We certainly couldn't have comethis far without Frans' personal commitment to representing his country and thepeople of the Netherlands who have suffered so much as a result of thisappalling incident.

Finally I want tothank the Australian team here in Kyiv, led by Angus Houston, our Ambassador toWarsaw Jean Dunn and about 70 Australians who are here working around the clockto ensure that we can bring closure to the families who have suffered so much.It's been a very productive day and I feel sure that progress will continue togain momentum and that we will achieve the goals as set out in the SecurityCouncil resolution of last Monday.

FRANS TIMMERMANS Briefly to add on,tomorrow we will be travelling on to Kharkiv to look at the people who aretaking care of the operation there and doing a very very difficult job indeed.To show our appreciation for what they're doing there.

JOURNALIST Minister Bishop, weall share the goal of getting the bodies back. What concrete do-able systemsare you going to put in place to do that? And isn't it a reality that given thedire security situation in rebel held lands, close to fighting, that that maynot be possible for weeks, months or longer.

JULIE BISHOP I am very optimisticafter today's meetings that we will have in place the legal and operationalframework that will enable our mission to be carried out as soon as possible.We're not talking about weeks, we're talking about days. I feel confident thatwith the legal and operational matters underway that we'll be in a position tostart work on the site without much further delay.

JOURNALIST Given what youhaven't addressed is the role of the rebels. How are you going to go on thatsite if they decide you don't and with what sort of protection will you have?

JULIE BISHOP That was the purposeof our meeting with the OSCE today. They have been dealing with the separatistsfor some time now, they have established a relationship of trust. We're takingtheir specific advice and working very closely with them. And that's what weagreed this afternoon, that we would cooperate and work in tandem with the OSCEto ensure that we get the cooperation of the separatists.

As for other mattersregarding security, that's precisely what our officials will be working throughin the following hours and days ahead of us. So they will be operationalmatters that our officials will determine and will obviously be taking expertadvice. Australia and the Netherlands are absolutely in lockstep over this. Ourofficials, our experts, our people will be resolving these issues. In fact agreat deal of work has already been done in anticipation of us being able toput in place the legal framework as we've done today.

JOURNALIST Question in Dutch.

FRANS TIMMERMANS Response in Dutch

JOURNALIST There's nobodyinvestigating right now. What's the delay?

FRANS TIMMERMANS There are people inthe field on a daily basis. There are people there today and tomorrow. We needto ensure that this operation is increased so that we step up the efforts tomake sure the remains are found and repatriated. We are in the process ofanalysing what is needed to achieve that goal.

JULIE BISHOP It wasn't until todaythat the legal framework was put in place. For example Australia has experts onthe site today and there have been experts from other countries this week. Wewill now be able to coordinate all the information and the efforts that havegone on to date.

JOURNALIST We've heard aboutthe want of security for the site to make sure what evidence remains is intact,to make sure the people working there are safe. There's been suggestion thatthere are police on their way from Australia to London and then to here tosecure the site. Can you give some insight of what your discussions were withthe OSCE today? Did they tell you it would be okay to bring those police to thesite? Did they advise against it? Will you have to talk to the separatists?

JULIE BISHOP Our Prime Ministersaid earlier today that we had as part of our contingency planning, deployed anumber of police to London so that they were in Europe ready to be furtherdeployed if that was able to be achieved. So we do have people available. Whatwe did with the OSCE today was work out the parameters of what we could do andof course they are dealing with the separatists so we're working through a listof what we need and what can be achieved. And we will coordinate with therepresentatives of the OSCE who have the relationship with the separatists andwe must continue to work closely with them to ensure we can achieve our goal.I'm confident as a result of those conversations they'll be able to representour interests and what we're seeking to achieve in their discussions with theseparatists.

JOURNALIST Did they indicatethey would be able to bring in the police?

JULIE BISHOP Obviously this ispart of a negotiation. The OSCE is in no doubt as to what the Netherlands andAustralia wish to achieve and as part of the negotiations with the separatistswe'll see what the result is. But there was an enormous level of goodwill andunderstanding of what we need in order to carry out the investigation. And ofcourse the Netherlands, as the lead in this, obviously has a number ofrequirements and we back them. Absolutely, totally. And I'm sure that given theconversations we had today we will be able to achieve our goals.

JOURNALIST One way of makingthis crash site and its surroundings a safer place would be a ceasefire orpeace. Was this part of the negotiations with the Ukrainian government, did youdemand this? Because Mr Klimkin is saying there will be a ceasefire and somehowpromised this, what can you tell me about that?

FRANS TIMMERMANS President Poroshenkowas very clear to both of us and said there is a ceasefire and we will maintainthat ceasefire as long as it is necessary. So he made that pledge to us in themeeting we had with him. So he said Ukrainian forces will not use violence,will not use military force at the site and an area of 40km surrounding thesite. As long as we still need to do our job.

JOURNALIST Channel 9 – Todaythey found even more body parts at the site. They could be Australian.Obviously you said you'd managed to get three Australian officials includingone forensic investigator. Why not more already? What the difference to thesafety of three to the safety of more to expedite bring these people,potentially Australians, home.

JULIE BISHOP Access to the siteis negotiated with the separatists. This site is in the middle of territorythat is held by the Russian-backed separatists who have weapons, are heavilyarmed with very sophisticated equipment. So our access to the site is as aresult of negotiation with the OSCE and each country, Netherlands, Malaysia,Australia, has had to negotiate a time and a place and we were restricted tothree. So we sent three experts. But as a result of the discussions today, as aresult of the Netherlands signing the agreement that transfers responsibilityto them, as a result of our discussions with the OSCE I feel confident that wenow have a legal framework in place whereby the operations can begin inearnest. I feel confident that over the next few days we'll see significantprogress.

JOURNALIST Question in Dutch.

FRANS TIMMERMANS Response in Dutch.

JOURNALIST Is there likely to bemore progress dealing with the Netherlands than the Ukrainian government?

JULIE BISHOP That's obviouslypart of our thinking behind the Netherlands taking the lead in this crash, thatwas a strategic decision that the Netherlands and Australia took last Sundaywhen Russia indicated it would veto the resolution if Ukraine were the countryto instigate the criminal investigation and the air investigation. It had to beUkraine because under the Chicago Convention they were the state where thecrash had occurred and so now that Ukraine has transferred legal responsibilityto the Netherlands we feel that we'll get more progress.

JOURNALIST I've come from thatarea there, it's very insecure and things can change very rapidly. It's anextremely difficult environment. I guess what I'm asking is what concretepractical way can we secure that site?

JULIE BISHOP I can assure youthat Australia will not allow our experts, our representatives, our officialsto put themselves in danger without security so we will protect our people andthat's what our officials are working through now – the operational aspects ofit – so we will not put them in unnecessary danger to achieve the goal ofsecuring the site. That means securing the site so that a proper air crashinvestigation can take place and including the media, everybody will have torespect the fact that from now on the Netherlands is in charge of theinvestigation on that site and will put the appropriate frameworks andprotocols in place.

JOURNALIST Is the bottom line aguarantee of safety from the rebels. Is that what our government needs forofficials going in?

JULIE BISHOP I won't go into thedetails of what we requested the OSCE ask of the separatists but I assure youthat we are looking at all contingencies, all outcomes and putting in place theoperational framework that will ensure we can achieve our goal and we can do itsafely.

JOURNALIST You are going toKharkiv tomorrow, is that because the final bodies are expected to befarewelled?

JULIE BISHOP That's right, weunderstand that the final caskets will be loaded and they will leave at 12 noontomorrow. So we wanted to see the operations there, speak to our people therebut also pay our respects to the bodies that will be leaving tomorrow.

JOURNALIST Will you fly back tothe Netherlands?

JULIE BISHOP I'm flying back withthe Dutch Foreign Minister. We flew in with the Dutch today and we'll be flyingout with them back to Amsterdam.

Thank you.

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