Sky News First Edition, interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: To our top story on the North Korean crisis. We're live to the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. Minister, thanks for your time. I want to get your reaction to Nikki Haley's comments – the US Ambassador to the United Nations. She said that North Korea has violated every UN Security Council resolution that we've had, and so I think something serious has to happen. What is that something?

JULIE BISHOP: First, the collective strategy is to impose unprecedented political, diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea. We have agreed to the most comprehensive and toughest set of sanctions ever imposed on North Korea. In the past, they've been able to evade the sanctions imposed on them, but this time they are sector-wide sanctions. In other words, banning the export of North Korean coal and lead and iron ore and seafood. This will have a significant impact on North Korea's economy and its ability to fund these illegal weapons programs, and if they are applied universally then North Korea will feel the brunt of these sanctions and realise that a penalty has to be paid for its illegal and provocative behaviour.

JOURNALIST: But when you've got the Ambassador to the UN of the United States, the Trump Administration, saying something serious, it does lend us to think that we might be hearing military options again, given Mr Trump has referred to the military option a number of times. If this happened under President Obama obviously we'd have a very different view of these events, but Trump has raised the military option himself a number of times.

JULIE BISHOP: Previous administrations have also embraced the all-options-on-the-table wording, and that has included military options. So previous US Presidents have embraced the idea of military options if necessary. President Trump's words are more robust, more forthright, but nevertheless this has been longstanding US policy. But first, as Secretary of State Tillerson has assured me, the United States wants to explore every diplomatic, economic, political avenue that it can.

JOURNALIST: When you say the words have been similar, they're not similar in the sense that Trump has said that the strategic patience- that his advisors have said there needs to be an end to that strategic patience as was characterised under Barack Obama. So basically the patience is running out when it comes to the Washington Administration.

JULIE BISHOP: However, we have now imposed the toughest set of sanctions ever against North Korea, and these were agreed also by China and Russia and all members of the UN Security Council on 5 August. Sanctions have 30 days within which to be implemented, and so they are yet to bite, and I believe North Korea will reassess its risk calculation once it is denied the ability to raise funds to build these nuclear weapons and these ballistic missile programs.

JOURNALIST: What makes you think that China and Russia will deliver on those commitments when there have been serious question marks as to whether or not they've done them as forcefully as they should have in the past in terms of sanctions? And secondly, what makes you think that this would have any impact on that dictator in Pyongyang?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, there's been a change in the scale and pace and tempo of North Korea's missile testing, and that is of deep concern to not only the United States and Japan and South Korea, but to China and Russia. The North Korean regime has conducted dozens and dozens, probably up to 80 ballistic missile tests since 2011, and so the pace and the tempo has changed. That's why China and Russia backed this comprehensive set of sanctions that goes across the North Korean economy. It also includes banning work visas for North Korean workers who were going mainly to China to work and send remittances back to the regime that helped fund its illegal programs. That's also been banned. The sanctions also target the primary foreign exchange bank of North Korea. So these economic sanctions must be given an opportunity to work.

JOURNALIST: There have been suggestions that Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State that you referred to earlier, may not be as close to Donald Trump as he would like. What's your sense from dealing with the US? Are they of one voice in regard to not just this crisis, but foreign policy more broadly?

JULIE BISHOP: I certainly gain that impression. Secretary of State Tillerson meets often with President Trump and they speak often. That's been apparent to me from the meetings and the discussions that I've had with Secretary of State Tillerson. There's a very impressive Cabinet team, comprising Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, the National Security Advisor McMaster. These are very savvy people who are in charge of US Defense and State affairs policies and I believe they are close to the President. Secretary of State Tillerson has made it clear that they will exhaust political, diplomatic and economic sanctions, bring the pressure to bear on North Korea, but that all options, as the President says, are on the table – that includes military options.

JOURNALIST: Finally on this issue, it's obviously very hard to work out what Kim Jong Un is thinking, but what is your best guess as to the strategy here, given this launch over Japanese territory came just days after he received some praise from Secretary Tillerson and even President Trump?

JULIE BISHOP: I think he's trying to increase his leverage. He wants to sit down and negotiate with the United States as an equal. He wants to be recognised as a nuclear power, but North Korea is in direct defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. His actions are not only provocative and dangerous and threatening, they are illegal. They are against international law. They are against the authority of the UN Security Council. But I think North Korea is seeking to have greater leverage when it ultimately sits down at the negotiating table with the United States, China and others.

JOURNALIST: And Foreign Minister, before I let you go, reports out of the Washington Post this morning that the Trump White House is thinking of Admiral Harry Harris – he's the top military commander of the United States in the Asia-Pacific – on his final year of service, due to retire at the end of the year and possibly become the next Ambassador to Australia. What do you say to that report this morning? Would you welcome it?

JULIE BISHOP: I would certainly welcome it, but we haven't had any official confirmation. Harry Harris is well known to Australia. In fact, I met with him during the recent Australia-United States ministerial discussions in June in Sydney this year. He's a very capable, competent man who knows Australia well, but we haven't had any official confirmation that he is to be the next Ambassador to Australia.

JOURNALIST: Have you heard word that the Commander of the Pacific Command, Admiral Harris, is in the mix?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I've read the reports from the Washington Post, and Admiral Harris is very well known to us. Of course we'd welcome such an appointment, but we haven't had any official confirmation that that decision has been made.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, thanks for your time as always. Appreciate it.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

- Ends -

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