Joint Press Conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

  • Transcript, E&OE
15 March 2016

MINISTER BISHOP I'm delighted to welcome to Australia the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr Zarif, the first visit of an Iranian Foreign Minister since 2002, and we welcome Foreign Minister Zarif on this visit to Australia as part of a more extensive visit throughout our region. Dr Zarif has been to Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, and now Australia.

It will be the Iranian New Year in the next few days, and it's a time to celebrate renewal, harmony and hope, and I hope that underscores the bilateral relationship between Iran and Australia, and most certainly Iran's engagement with the international community. I have congratulated Dr Zarif on the recent parliamentary elections in Iran and also on his personal commitment to the successful conclusion of the P5+1 negotiations which resulted in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in relation to Iran's nuclear program. We have had a very extensive discussion today, and Dr Zarif has also met with our Trade and Investment Minister, our Immigration Minister, our Minister for International Education and Tourism, and also with the Prime Minister.

Among the matters that we have discussed in our bilateral meeting included our enthusiasm for enhancing our trade and investment ties, as a result of the conclusion of the P5+1 Agreement. And in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution 2231, a number of sanctions have been lifted from Iran, and Australia has also lifted sanctions in accordance with the UN obligations, and this opens the way for there to be greater trade and investment between Australia and Iran, and I know many Australian businesses have already registered their interest, along with many other businesses from around the world, in deepening economic ties with Iran.

We have also discussed matters of common interest, particularly the fight against terrorism that is occurring in Syria and Iraq, where we both have interests in defeating ISIL or Daesh, and we had a detailed discussion about that. I have also discussed matters of concern to Australia: Iran's recent ballistic missile tests, we have discussed human rights issues, we have discussed issues relating to Iran's relationships with other countries in the region, particularly Israel, Saudi Arabia, and in Yemen. Overall, it's been a very positive discussion.

We have also touched on issues of concern to Australia, particularly on defeating the people smuggling trade and issues of illegal immigration into our country. Dr Zarif, I want to thank you for making the effort to visit Australia. I know you are meeting with members of your Iranian community. We look forward to enhancing particularly the two-way education ties, and also the tourism opportunities that most certainly exist in your country and we want to attract more Iranian tourists to Australia.

So I'm very pleased that you have chosen to visit Australia at this time and I look forward to our continuing discussions, as we meet in various fora around the world. Thank you for your visit and to your delegation for being here at this time.

MINISTER ZARIF Good afternoon to all of you and let me begin by expressing thanks to Minister Bishop and the Australian Government for your gracious hospitality, for having arranged a wonderful program for us and having engaged in a fruitful discussion and consultation on our bilateral relations.

We are happy that after the removal of sanctions, Australia put the measures that were necessary, the legislation that was necessary was adopted here in Australia so that now the road for cooperation between Iranian and Australian business communities is now open and we hope this will be in the interests of the two people. There's only gains to be made by everybody in engaging in a variety of relations between Iran and Australia. We have had some traditional areas of cooperation. We can add some new areas of cooperation in the areas that Minister Bishop mentioned and in other areas including science and technology, job creation and other possibilities for investment and joint ventures in Iran and Australia. We look forward to greater cooperation in that area.

We also had a good discussion on regional issues. We shared the view ISIS is a common enemy; nobody can look at ISIS as a possible leverage. We all need to cooperate together to fight ISIS and extremism. We have seen instances of that type of extremism committing crimes, basically, across the world from Sydney to San Bernardino, and everywhere in between. We have seen cases of violent extremism posing a threat not only to one region but to our entire international community and, on that President Rouhani, our President, two and a half years ago suggested to the General Assembly a world that unites against violence and extremism acronym: WAVE, and we hope Iran and Australia can work together on that particular issue.

I am also happy that we discussed important issues including human rights. We need to have a more serious approach to human rights where human rights does not become an instrument of political pressure but, rather, for Iran as a country, as the only serious country in the region that holds elections and people can vent their frustrations at the ballot box instead of through violence and extremism, we hope that the improvement of human rights, which is a duty for all of us, towards our citizens and towards the international community, should be and could be carried out more impartially and without political considerations. We discussed that.

We also discussed the so-called missile issue. I said Iran is on the record that we will not use those missiles against anybody except in self-defence and we challenge those who question our missiles program to make the same statement. Simply to make the same statement: that they will not attack other countries. That force is not acceptable means of advancing foreign policy. That, according to the UN Charter, you cannot resort to force except in self-defence and Iran has made that commitment that we will not use force except in self-defence, but if attacked, Iran will defend itself and missiles are a means of our defence. We use far less resources on defence than anybody in the region. We actually use a fraction of the defence spending of others in the region, almost everybody in the region. That is one of the important elements that needs to be taken into account.

We also need to work together against those who abuse people's dreams and aspirations in order to make money: people traffickers, drug traffickers, drug smugglers, and there is a close linkage between these organised crimes and we need to work against them while respecting the rights of our citizens and the rights of everybody as human beings.

I believe that we had a very constructive conversation on all these issues, the road for cooperation between Iran and Australia is wide open, and we hope that in the future we can see greater people-to-people exchanges, Parliamentary exchanges and greater business cooperation between our two private sectors.

Once again, thank you very much for your hospitality. Thank you very much for your good wishes for our new year. It is the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere so it's renewal of life for all creatures and it is the renewal of our calendar year so I think it's a good day for everybody and I hope it will be a good year for all of us, particularly for the people of Syria and Yemen who have been suffering from violence and war for much too long. Thank you.

MINISTER BISHOP Thank you Dr Zarif. We will take some questions.

JOURNALIST You've both spoken about terrorism and the fight against Islamic State, I'm interested to know your reaction – to both of you – to Russia's decision to withdraw its forces from Syria.

MINISTER BISHOP At this point, we welcome the decision. We hope that it means that the ceasefire will hold and that it's a reflection of Russia's view that the ceasefire will hold. But I will hand to Dr Zarif who has been more closely involved in discussions with Russia than I have in recent times.

MINISTER ZARIF We always believed - first of all, the Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a State so let me make that clear, that's why we call it Daesh so it won't give the connotation it has anything to do with Islam because Islam is a religion that is against violence and the brutality that Daesh represents, unfortunately, in the Islamic world, with Muslims being the major victims of this brutal organisation.

We always insisted on the need for a ceasefire, from the beginning, and to get a political solution to the problem in Syria. Obviously the ceasefire does not include terrorists. It doesn't include Daesh, it doesn't include al-Nusra, it doesn't include people who are collaborating with them. Now the fact that a semi ceasefire has been holding in Syria is welcome news, it's something we've been asking for for at least two and a half, three years. The fact that Russia announced that it's withdrawing part of its forces indicates that they don't see an imminent need for resort to force in maintaining the ceasefire, that in and of itself should be a positive sign. Now we have to wait and see. Of course, the message that the international community has been sending to Daesh, and should be sending to Daesh and other extremist organisations, is that our fight against them is relentless, we will not stop and I believe the entire international community is united in that. I do not think anybody should consider Daesh, or other extremist organisations, as a leverage even for temporary political gains. I hope that message can be driven home everywhere in the region, particularly as we see more and more instances of carnage and terrorism in our region carried out by Daesh.

JOURNALIST Dr Zarif, (speaks in foreign language).

MINISTER BISHOP Can you please translate?

MINISTER ZARIF You came here, what do you ask from Australia? Should I answer in –

MINISTER BISHOP I'm glad you translated that for me, yes. Answer in English.

MINISTER ZARIF Answer in English? Okay.

MINISTER BISHOP I think I need to hear this answer too.

MINISTER ZARIF We want greater cooperation with Australia, as we want greater cooperation with the rest of the international community. Possibilities in Iran to cooperate with Australia will include possibilities for transit and transport which will help the entire region including Afghanistan, because we believe that if we can get the Port of Chabahar going, with the help of investment from our friends across the world, we can establish direct links with Afghanistan so that Afghanistan can sell its commodities, particularly oil, to the international markets and develop a formal economy rather than an informal economy. Iran provides a conduit to the Central Asian region, to Afghanistan, to elsewhere and we believe that's a good possibility for all of us to entertain. Also we need to work together on fighting extremism and terrorism and violence and organised crime and help bring about an end to all these conflicts in our region. These are the issues I'm discussing with Australia.

MINISTER BISHOP Can I also add to that, that in relation to enhanced two-way trade and investment, our Minister for Trade and Investment has announced today that Austrade will be re-opening its office in Tehran. And you would be aware that Australia has maintained an Embassy in Tehran over the last few decades, other countries have withdrawn from time-to-time but Australia has maintained a presence, an Embassy in Tehran and now Austrade will be opening an office.

JOURNALIST Minister Bishop, do you agree with the United States view that the recent ballistic missile tests may violate 2231 and it should be taken up with the Security Council?

MINISTER BISHOP I had undertaken to raise this matter with Foreign Minister Zarif and I have done so. In fact we had a very detailed discussion during our meeting earlier today about why Iran tested these missiles and the circumstances surrounding it. As for whether it is a breach of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and, indeed, the UN Security Council resolution, I understand the Security Council is considering this matter. Dr Zarif gave a very detailed legal and technical response. We discussed the perception, the political circumstances surrounding the timing of this, and so having raised it with Dr Zarif, he may care to reiterate his response to me.

MINISTER ZARIF Since the question should have been asked for me -

MINISTER BISHOP He is asking if I asked you.

MINISTER ZARIF She did (laughter). I can certify she did ask but 2231 is no longer 1929. First of all, even the United States State Department has made it very clear that the testing of missiles has nothing to do with JCPOA, so it doesn't violate the nuclear deal. It may have violated 1929 because 1929 had two provisions. One was that it required Iran not to test missiles and, secondly, it had a broad definition of missiles. Now 1929, fortunately, is defunct, no longer there. That's why I spent two and a half years negotiating. We wanted to end 1929 and similar resolutions which we believed were illegal to begin with, but ended that. 2231 has a different language. First of all, it doesn't use obligatory terms that are used in the Security Council so Iran is not obliged by 2231, it calls upon Iran. Secondly it creates a narrower definition of the missiles, and that is missiles that are designed to be capable - not capable - designed to be capable of carrying nuclear war heads. Since we do not have nuclear war heads and undertaken not to develop them and the international community has put in place the best mechanisms money can buy in order to ensure that we do not develop nuclear weapons, so we do not design any missiles to carry things we do not have. So these missiles do not even fall within the purview of 2231 and they are not illegal.

But let us look at this fact: Iran spends a fraction of what others spend on defence. Missiles are a means of our defence which we need as a country that has been subjected to eight years of war where everybody - people want to forget that but it's very difficult for Iranians to forget that. Eight years of war, everybody supported Saddam Hussein, nobody supported us. When he was showering our cities with missiles, some with chemical agents, nobody gave us a single missile to retaliate so that at least we could maintain the rights of our citizens for life. We are developing those as a means of defence but the same General who presided over the testing of that missile stated very carefully and very clearly, and I re-state, that Iran will never use any means to attack any country, including our missiles. These are only for our defence. I challenge those who are complaining about Iran's missile program, taking photographs and making slide shows and all of that in front of the Security Council to make the same statement. But they're not going to use force against Iran other than in self-defence.

MINISTER BISHOP Just to be clear, having raised our concerns in the manner that I did, having heard the Foreign Minister's explanation, it is Australia's position that should the UN Security Council wish to investigate this matter, then that would be the proper legal process for it to do so.

JOURNALIST Dr Zarif, does Iran or yourself have any in-principle objection to asylum seekers, failed asylum seekers being returned from Australia to Iran? Is an agreement possible?

MINISTER ZARIF Well we don't have any objection to Iranian citizens coming back to Iran voluntarily. We are working to allow them, enable them to come back voluntarily. We cannot force anybody to come back to Iran but if anybody wants to come back voluntarily, we always take our citizens with pride.

JOURNALIST But deported?

MINISTER ZARIF That would be for Australia to decide. It is within the legal rights of Australia based on its legal obligations to make that decision. It's a decision that Australia has to make. Then they will decide whether they want to come back to Iran or whether they do not want to come back to Iran. We cannot force them to come back to Iran.

MINISTER BISHOP I will take one question more because I have to be in the House of Representatives.

JOURNALIST Well of course you've already answered my question but this one is the second question I have is that is Australia's Foreign Minister expecting to have a visit to Iran in the near future?

MINISTER BISHOP Am I going to Iran? I was in Tehran in April of last year and I had a very fruitful and productive visit to Tehran and I, again, thank Foreign Minister Zarif for his hospitality at that time, and some of the outcomes of that meeting, we are, of course, continuing to discuss today including the issue of people smuggling. This year is an election in Australia so I don't think I'll be travelling too far in the second half of the year but, of course, if the opportunity arises to visit Tehran, I would continue to do that as I visit other countries in the Middle East.

JOURNALIST I'm sorry but how's your idea about illegal immigration. Could you please tell us what was the result of conversations you had with Mr Zarif about illegal immigrations? Did you come up with a kind of solution?

MINISTER BISHOP We had a very detailed discussion about it and our officials are continuing the consular dialogue so discussions are continuing but it was a very productive discussion and I thank Dr Zarif for his assistance in that regard.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid I have to go to the House of Representatives so thank you very much.


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