Sky News Early Edition - interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Let's return to our earlier story now; we're joined by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in New York.

Minister, thanks so much for your time. You're leading the Australian delegation there for the Leaders' Week and the first intervention by Donald Trump has been seen as a criticism of the UN but really, when you look at his comments, he's far more constructive than he's been in the past about the United Nations.

JULIE BISHOP: Indeed, Kieran. This was the first event that President Trump attended at UN General Assembly Leaders' Week and it was to call for reforms for the UN - excuse me, I've got a bit of a cold over here - and Australia attended, as did about 120 other countries. I listened to the President's speech and he called for the United Nations to be more effective, to be more efficient, to be less bureaucratic and I think there's universal agreement that that should be the case. In fact, the UN Secretary-General was present and he welcomed the United States' contribution to the ongoing debate about United Nations reforms.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, it was a disciplined contribution, only four minutes long from Donald Trump in that venue - which is known for very, very lengthy speeches. But it was a sharp contribution - as we mentioned - and also saying that he's confident, if the international community works together, that it can emerge stronger, more effective, more just and a greater force for peace. As I say, very different to candidate Trump.

JULIE BISHOP: The United Nations is an important international body; if it didn't exist you would have to create it because it is dedicated to peace and security and stability around the world and it does amazing work in the humanitarian space, in peacekeeping and the like. But there are areas where it could improve, and I thought it was very reassuring to hear that the United States is committed to the United Nations, but wants to see reforms and Australia agrees with that view - as did about 120 other countries and the United Nations itself, through the Secretary-General.

JOURNALIST: Obviously we have to wait another 24 hours before we hear what the President says in his first address to the General Assembly, that's where the full detail of his worldview will be argued and articulated. What's your sense of where he's going to focus? Obviously North Korea a big priority right now.

JULIE BISHOP: Well we have to wait to hear the President's speech but I imagine he will address the crises around the world and obviously North Korea is a significantly big issue here and it is the subject of much discussion in bilateral meetings and side meetings. So I expect that much of his speech will be dedicated to how to deal with North Korea, because the United States has led the Security Council in imposing very tough economic sanctions on North Korea. These sanctions must be given time to work, but the United States has been calling for political and diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea, so I expect that much of the speech will be about North Korea.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel that gradually we've seen a watering down of the Trump rhetoric about America First, particularly with him being surrounded now in the senior levels of the White House by generals Kelly and McMaster and so on?

JULIE BISHOP: The US administration hasn't changed its position in the sense that America First is the sort of thing that all leaders should say, that their country comes first. But the United States is still committed in Syria, in Iraq, committed to leading international pressure on North Korea, they're still deeply engaged in our region; so US foreign policy will continue but, obviously, with differences in emphasis and nuances and responses to particular challenges. I think that the Secretary of State presents as a very credible international figure - Rex Tillerson - and the others in the Cabinet - including the Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis; the National Security Advisor, General McMaster - all have a very sophisticated world view. So, collectively, they make up the Trump foreign policy executive and will all be present here- well a number of them will be present here during Leaders' Week.

JOURNALIST: And while you're trying to get on with your task there at the United Nations and other diplomats doing the same, we hear the same rhetoric coming from Pyongyang that these sanctions will only speed up the process - is the message from North Korean state media overnight - that these sanctions at the UN will only speed up their process towards a nuclear capacity.

JULIE BISHOP: We have seen in the past that if economic sanctions are applied then it can bring North Korea back to the negotiating table and that's clearly the collective strategy, to increase the diplomatic and political and economic pressure, to maximise that pressure so that North Korea will be compelled to return to the negotiating table. And the sanctions have only recently been applied, they'll take some time - weeks, months - to be implemented, but they are the toughest, most comprehensive set of economic sanctions against North Korea. We've seen in the past that this kind of pressure can bring North Korea back to the negotiating table and that's what we hope to achieve in this instance.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel that China is increasingly hardening its line against the Kim regime given their recent provocative behaviour with the launch late last week over Hokkaido again and the recent nuclear tests?

JULIE BISHOP: Without doubt, China is engaged deeply in the discussions on economic sanctions, on discussions on how to curb North Korea's behaviour. It is illegal behaviour, it's in defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions and, of course, China is a permanent member of the Security Council and China, like other members, would want to uphold the authority of the Security Council. So, China has many reasons, not the least that it is an economic partner of North Korea and therefore has unique leverage over North Korea, but also as a permanent member of the Security Council; it's in China's interests to ensure that North Korea changes its behaviour, comes back to the negotiating table and gives up it's illegal missile and weapons programs.

JOURNALIST: A couple of quick ones to finish. While we're still on China, what's the aim of this naval exercise of six naval vessels heading to the Indo-Pacific? They left recently and reported this morning. What's the aim from the Australian perspective on this latest exercise?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Navy has a very long history of engagement with other navies in our region, visiting ports, carrying out joint exercises - indeed, we've carried out exercises with China in the past. So this is part of what the Australian Navy does. This exercise has been in the planning for some time; it's to test our capability, it's to carry out naval exercises to the best of our ability, and that's what the engagement is about, and we have a long history of doing so and we will continue to do so.

JOURNALIST: Last question: would you be open to a diplomatic mission in Pyongyang - just back on North Korea – there have been reports this week that the Government was at least asked about that; would you consider that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I certainly won't comment on confidential conversations or intelligence or any matter relating to the CIA as I understand this report refers to such matters. But, clearly, North Korea is in direct defiance of the UN Security Council. We are imposing very strict and tough sanctions on North Korea. We're ensuring that North Korea is isolated diplomatically; so a discussion about a mission in North Korea just does not arise.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, joining us from the UN in New York, appreciate it.

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