Joint press conference - Australian and Iraqi Foreign Ministers

  • Transcript, E&OE

Minister Al-Ja'afari (in Arabic): I would like to welcome the Australian Foreign Minister to Baghdad, this is her first visit and we hope it will not be the last one. Hopefully we are going to have more visits from the Australian Government to keep up the good relationship. I would like to explain to everyone here the good relationship between Iraq and Australia. Australia has helped Iraq and has offered assistance in the fight against ISIL as they have offered assistance in the past in other areas, including agricultural and economic projects. I would like to thank the Minister for her speech in New York and how she supported Iraq. She recognised the dangerous and serious nature of the current situation, identifying ISIL as not only a threat to Iraq but a threat to the whole world. I would like to thank the Australian Government for their help and the funding they have given to Iraq Government, I believe we have received around half a billion US$ from Australian Government up until 2014.

Minister Bishop:Thank you for your warm welcome to Iraq. I am in here in Baghdad on my first visit to Iraq as a demonstration of the Australian Government's support for the Iraqi Government and Iraqi people. We understand the enormous challenge that you face with the level of terrorism activities in Iraq that has been perpetrated by this barbaric organisation known as ISIL or Daash. We are determined to assist you in combatting this organisation and degrading and disrupting its activities. I do agree with you your Excellency that Daash poses not only a threat to Iraq but to the region and globally and Australia is determined to play our part in helping to destroy not only the activities but the ideology that drives such murderous behaviour.

Australia and Iraq have become strong friends over many years. There are a lot of Iraqis living in Australia making a great contribution to our community and there is much potential for our relationship to deepen and strengthen as we combat terrorism and in more positive areas such as trade and investment. Australia has developed expertise in a number of areas including agriculture and we will be pleased to be able to share our experience and expertise and continue to support your citizens spending time in Australia training in these techniques. Australia is a reliable and steadfast friend and we look forward to continuing our discussions as are we consider ways that the bilateral relationship can be stronger and endure for the benefit of the people of Iraq and for the people of Australia who support your efforts. Your Excellency we had a very positive meeting in New York at the United Nations Assembly Leaders week recently and I look forward to maintaining the contact with you on a regular basis as we look to face not only challenges but opportunities.

Minister Al-Ja'afari (in Arabic): Thank you very much I will take two questions.

Question:We have now a civil war in Iraq. I would like to ask about the strategy in the support of Iraq. What is the role of Australia in providing assistance to Iraq?

Minister Bishop:Australia is part of the coalition forces who have offered to assist the Iraqi government in combatting ISIL and similar organisations. We have offered the support of the Royal Australian Air Force and advisers to work with the Iraqi government for specific projects as determined by the Iraqi government. It will be a matter of talking through with the Iraqi government what they seek from us. We have expertise in particular areas and we can make that offer to the Iraqi Government.

Question:Welcome to Baghdad. Thank you for all the support from the Australian Government to combat ISIL and assist the Iraqi government fight against this organisation. We have information that some Australian citizens are fighting with ISIL. What is Australia going to do with these people? What is your current thinking about these people?

Minister Bishops:We are aware and concerned that a number of Australian citizens has joined with ISIL to fight in Iraq and Syria. But Australia is not the only country with citizens coming to Iraq and Syria to take part in fighting. We are doing what we can in Australia to prevent our citizens leaving the country and we're working with communities in Australia to prevent such people from leaving the country. They have been radicalised and likewise we are working to ensure when they return to Australia which they will do, we will be able to prevent them posing a risk to the Australian people. We're also working to starve ISIL of fighters, funding and resources. I should add that ISIL has been prescribed as a terrorist organisation in Australia and is it is a criminal offence to aid, assist, fight for, or support ISIL in any way and it is punishable in very serious ways in terms of imprisonment.

Question:Australia joined the coalition forces a month ago but so far they are doing limited air strikes. Are you going to ask Australia and other countries to do more?

Minister Al-Ja'afari: Regarding the second question we met with a number of countries in New York and we are working through the Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs. We have requested assistance with air strikes, logistic preparations, and the provision of intelligence information from the Head of UN Security Council and all the member countries. We also asked for their help with humanitarian assistance for 100,000 people who have been internally displaced from Mosul and other areas in Iraq. We have asked a number of countries to help us in rebuilding infrastructure, especially in Mosul. Part of our discussion with the Australian Foreign Minister is Australia continuing to assist us politically and economically. The clear message we send to the Head of the UN Security Council was that any country that wants to work with us needs to coordinate and communicate closely with the relevant authorities. The main points we have mentioned in our letter to the Head of the UN Security Council and to coalition member countries and non-member countries such as China and Iran are that they must avoid striking civilian targets and residential areas. China and Iran have offered to help Iraq. China is not a member of the coalition. We will work with any countries that want to help and assist Iraq even if they are not members of the coalition.

Question:Have you discussed with the Australian Foreign Minister the possibility of bringing ground troops?

Minister Bishop:From Australia's perspective we do not envisage sending ground forces, we have not been asked to, we have not offered to, so we do not envisage that being part of our arrangement with Iraq. We will only provide assistance at the invitation of and with the consent of the Iraqi government.

Minister Al-Ja'afari:I just want to confirm what the Australian Foreign Minister said. The Iraqi government has never asked for foreign ground forces, and we are not going to ask. We consider ground troops from other countries entering Iraq is a red line, because we do not want to put anyone or any country in danger by fighting in our lands.

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