Press conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Dr Ibrahim Al Ja'afari

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP I welcome Iraqi Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Ibrahim al Ja'afari to Canberra. We have met on previous occasions, at the United Nations and last October in Baghdad when I travelled to Iraq to make arrangements with the Iraqi Government for our military personnel to support the efforts of the Iraqi Government, to boost the Iraqi defence forces, so that they could be better able to tackle the terrorist organisation that has been terrorising parts of Iraq, to help take back territory that had been claimed by ISIL or Daesh, and to better protect the people of Iraq who had been suffering at the hand of this brutal terrorist organisation.

The Foreign Minister and I have had a very constructive discussion today. Indeed, the Foreign Minister's day began with a meeting with our Prime Minister and Prime Minister Abbott reaffirmed our commitment to supporting the Iraqi Government's efforts to counter terrorism and counter violent extremism. We have discussed the progress of the campaign against ISIL, Daesh in Iraq. We have discussed the situation in Syria. Indeed, we canvassed the regional tensions and conflicts and sectarian divides and competitive issues in the Middle East more generally.

In particular, the Foreign Minister provided me with an update on the success of the campaign and the positive role that Australian military personnel are playing in Iraq. In particular we discussed the gains that have been made through air strikes and through the activities of the Iraqi Defence Force. We are seeing ISIL contained in some areas, retreating in others but our work is not yet done.

I commended Foreign Minister Ja'afari on the inclusive nature of the Iraqi Government under Prime Minister Al-Abadi and we discussed the political, economic and social reforms underway in Iraq and we spoke of a brighter future. Australia and Iraq will be able to expand our trade and investment ties and in particular see more investment from Australian businesses particularly in agriculture, a passion of the Foreign Minister, and we also talked about educational opportunities that exist and can be enhanced between our two countries.

Given the number of Australian citizens who are supporting this terrorist organisation as foreign terrorist fighters or providing support in other ways, we have an obligation to ensure that Australian citizens are prevented from adding to the suffering and misery of the people of Iraq.

Given the number of foreign terrorist fighters from our region and given the spread of foreign terrorist fighters across the globe who are making their way to Iraq I reiterated our belief that this is a global terrorist organisation with global reach, therefore it requires a global response and Australia will continue to be part of the international Coalition to defeat ISIL/Daesh wherever it operates.

The Australian Government deeply appreciates the presence of the Foreign Minister here today.

DR IBRAHIM AL-JA'AFARI TRANSLATION:Thank you very much indeed for this kind initiative to visit Australia. Today's meeting has proceeded by other meetings between us and New York, and during Her Excellency's visit to Baghdad, on all these visits were directed into one direction, the support of Australia to Iraq in its fight.

Australia had an excellent position towards Iraq during the United Nations General Assembly meeting during her speech, Her Excellency, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, that ISIL today is not a local term, it is a globalised term that requires a globalised response.

The Security Council has rarely governed unanimously upon a case, and the Security Council stood together and decided unanimously against ISIL due to the great role that Australia played during these meetings.

ISIL has started its fight in Syria and Iraq, but today it is doing its best to be extended to the remaining of the world, and it will not exclude any country from its evil.

ISIL does not exclude any country from its plans it attacked Canada and the House of Parliament, it attacked France and Sweden, so it is a globalised attack against the world.

The international response against ISIL was late, although it happened by the end. We must send a message to ISIL that the whole world will stand beside any country that is being threatened or targeted by ISIL.

In addition to the diplomatic relations with Australia, we are looking forward to improve our economic, commercial relations between the two countries.

Today I met His Excellency Prime Minister Abbott and the Minister of Immigration and Her Excellency, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and we all agreed and discussed that we should push the relations between the two countries forward on all the joint fields.

Investment opportunities are opened to Australia and Australian companies to come into Iraq and invest in these fields especially and agriculture, due to the great experience that Australia has in agriculture and given the fact that Iraqi soil and Iraqi climate is quite suitable enough for agriculture and to re-assert the Iraqi relationship again.

In addition to that, Australia has contributed to improving the security situation in Iraq, due to its aerial support through air raids.

I would like to extend my thanks to Her Excellency, the Minister for Foreign Affairs for this invitation to visit Australia and the great hospitality I have had here in Canberra.

JULIE BISHOP Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST Ministers, can we get both your reactions please to the news overnight that President Obama has authorised American Special Forces to directly target ISIL leaders? Dr Al Ja'afari is that a development you would welcome? Would you like to see it expanded to other Coalition countries, including Australia? And Minister Bishop, is this an effort that Australia would consider joining?

JULIE BISHOP The Australian Government is in Iraq at the invitation of and with the consent of the Iraqi Government, and I was involved in the arrangements that were made in order that our personnel could take part in air strikes to disrupt ISIL activities, and that our personnel could be present to advise and assist in a training role with the Iraqi defence forces.

We have not sought to expand our role to include combat troops. We've not had that discussion. We have talked about opportunities to continue to train Iraqi defence forces in circumstances where that would be required.

DR IBRAHIM AL-JA'AFARI And that is the extent of our involvement through air strikes and advising and assisting and training. We also provide significant support to the United States in terms of the exchange of information and intelligence, so that is the extent of our role.

Regarding the guidelines set in the current international endeavour, we have established a set of guidelines, including providing of air support, training and counselling to the Iraqi armed forces. The Iraqi armed forces is taking the initiative on the ground and what we have agreed with the international coalition partners is to provide assistance on the aerial support, training, advising and also intelligence information sharing, in addition to providing humanitarian assistance.

JOURNALIST [Inaudible] for that additional American involvement of Special Forces? It was quite clear in President Obama's letter to Congress that he is authorising US Special Forces to go out and conduct independent missions to target ISIL leaders. Is this not something that the Iraqi Government has agreed to?

DR IBRAHIM AL-JA'AFARI The message that the Iraq has committed to the Security Council at the beginning of the conference had never included a request of ground forces to enter Iraqi territories to conduct such operations.

JOURNALIST Minister, just to clarify, also, would you have any wish for Australia to take on a broader combat role on the ground in Iraq further than our advisory role?

DR IBRAHIM AL-JA'AFARI I just have mentioned to the previous question, we have never asked for ground forces contribution except on the level of counselling and advising also providing intelligence sharing for the movement of such groups, the training of Iraqi forces.

We are at the beginning of a major war and it could be - the situation could be changing, although the Iraqi Armed Forces is achieving advances against ISIL today.

Iraqi Armed Forces is not suffering any shortage in its personnel because it is not the one taking advantage on targeting ISIL forces. But there is no doubt that Iraqi armed forces needs aerial support in addition to providing intelligence information.

JOURNALIST Doctor, you referred earlier on to Australia's time in the Security Council. I know many Iraqis were extremely disappointed when Australia was the only country to vote with the United States to veto - against the motion on Israel. I was wanting to ask you three things, if I could. Firstly, is that the reason why we haven't signed a status of forces agreement and why we can't get our - why our troops aren't actually integrated with the Iraqi Army? Secondly, is that why our people are still on - our troops are still on diplomatic passports? And thirdly, the Iranian Kurds force is integrated with the Iraqi army. What makes the Iranians different to the American forces and the Australian forces?

JULIE BISHOP Can I just say first, of course the Foreign Minister can answer, but the arrangement we struck with Iraq over the presence of Australian personnel was last October. This predates any vote in the Security Council and Australia made its position quite clear that we didn't think that the vote would lead to a Palestinian state.

But the arrangement that we have come to with the Iraqi Government over our presence in Iraq was struck in October 2014. It was never proposed to be a status of forces agreement, so your question is based on a false assumption, and secondly, the arrangement in terms of how we are present there in a diplomatic sense was something that we agreed together last October.

JOURNALIST So our soldiers are carrying diplomatic passports?

JULIE BISHOP The passport arrangements were something we agreed with the Iraqi Government and something we've considered in the past. In the circumstances of seeking to get our people there as soon as possible so that we could be part of building capacity with the Iraqi Defence Force, it was agreed that this was the most effective and efficient way of doing it.

DR IBRAHIM AL-JA'AFARI We treat all our international partners equally. No country has regular army's or ground troops present in Iraq except for providing counselling and advising [inaudible].

JOURNALIST Rob Taylor from the Wall Street Journal, I just want to quickly ask, there's been some confusion about targeting arrangements and the information sharing between Syria and Western Coalition air forces. Are you able to provide any clarity as to what the daily contact with the Syrian Government is and what sort of information is provided to them and whether sort of targeting information is among that?

DR IBRAHIM AL-JA'AFARI It's quite true that the American jets did target some ISIL targets inside the [inaudible]. But that operation was part of the international coalition [inaudible] to counter ISIL in Iraq to target the ISIL roots in the [inaudible].

JOURNALIST TRANSLATION: The international community has changed its position towards Iraq in its fight against ISIL with ISIL targeting different countries in the world?

DR IBRAHIM AL-JA'AFARI Indeed, the world has woken up with a bitter truth of ISIL being present and targeting different countries in the world. It is true that the fight today is [inaudible] inside Iraq but ISIL individuals are coming from all the world's countries and are citizens of these countries and just as ISIL members are from different countries in the world. We should retaliate with international support from all the international countries and partners of the international coalition.

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