Transcript of joint press conference with French Minister for Foreign and European Affairs Alain Juppé

Subjects: Visit to France; European debt crisis; Syria; Iran

Paris, France

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

19 January 2012

ALAIN JUPPÉ: (speaks French)

KEVIN RUDD: Thank you very much, Alain.

It is always good to be here at the Quai d'Orsay and to be here in Paris with our good friends in the French Government.

It was good also to have received you in Australia at the end of last year and it's good to be back to continue our dialogue here in Paris.

Today, after 170 years of consular and diplomatic engagement between France and Australia, we are elevating our relationship to that of a strategic partnership and this is a good thing. It reflects the maturity, the depth and breadth of this relationship. We have been with each other in many, many difficult times in the past. We think of the terrible losses suffered by this country in the First and Second World Wars, and in both those great conflagrations, Australian soldiers were with French soldiers fighting wars for freedom and for liberation.

Our sense of solidarity with the French Government and the French people has extended over many decades.

Geography has separated us but the thing about globalisation is that all the challenges that we now face are challenges to be faced and embraced together. Globalisation has overcome distance and that is why this relationship of strategic partnership is so important. It is a relationship which embraces all things that we now seek to do together, both in political, security, and economic cooperation, what our businesses do together. Australia welcomes so much French investment in Australia and there is more to be done in the economic relationship more broadly, and this morning a new chapter in our education relationship.

This is a country of formidable educational and academic achievement, as is Australia, and I think we can do great things, together.

Of course what also unites us, is our common democratic values and human rights. These are values which we do not see just belonging to our own countries, France and Australia, but values also for the world.

As the Foreign Minister just indicated, our conversation also focused on the great challenges we now face with the global economy and within that, the particular challenges which are confronted here in Europe.

These are difficult times.

I acknowledge the strength of the leadership provided by France and Germany in what has been a difficult time for Europe. These are challenges that are not just for Europe, because how these challenges are dealt with affect all of us around the world. These are difficult decisions which lie ahead, but I acknowledge those which have been taken, particularly the decision on the part of Europe's own countries to embrace new regimes of fiscal discipline, as well as the decisions taken to provide greater strength of support for Europe's banking sector through the European Central Bank.

There are many decisions which lie ahead but what I would say to our friends in Europe more broadly and to our friends in France, is that we in Australia stand ready to work with you on every practical measure possible, to ensure that we get a good landing point, not just for Europe but, as a consequence, for the global financial system and economy.

Let us be clear, the alternative is too ugly to contemplate for us all and therefore statesmanship, good policy-making and strong leadership of the type we have seen from our good friends in Paris and Berlin, during the deep challenges which we face most recently, is the sort of leadership which we need also to continue in the future.

Finally, I would like to say that as a new chapter in our relationship unfolds, we will, as Alain has just said, be meeting now more frequently, systematically and regularly.

He did indicate to me when he visited in my convalescence from heart surgery in Australia last September, that it was the first time in a quarter of a century I think that a French Foreign Minister had been to our shores. Prior to that I think it was La Perouse, Baudin, Bougainville and others. Well that's all behind us.

I think we're going to look forward to a much deeper engagement into the future.

Australian people have a deep affection for France and we see ourselves as partners not just with France but more broadly with Europe and the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Our region – Australia is in the Asia-Pacific region – is the dynamic region of the 21st century, which will craft so much of our world's future. I think there is something strong and good to be done between our two strong democracies which can help shape the world's future as well. Hence our new strategic partnership is important not just for ourselves, but for what we can do together in our regions and in the world.

JOURNALIST: France was recently sanctioned by Standard & Poor's and lost one 'A'. What's your take on the economic and political implications for relations between France and Australia?

You just mentioned that Australia stands to work with France and Europe in general. Can you elaborate on that?

KEVIN RUDD: Firstly, the French Government has spoken eloquently and effectively in its response to what Standard & Poor's have done most recently.

As I said in our earlier discussions, I would just remind the international community that Standard & Poor's also goes by the initials "S" and "P" which I think was also the initials which stood for the word "sub-prime" – and we should remember some time ago when certain credit-rating agencies around the world said that sub-prime was a good category of investment to invest in. But I'll leave the rating agencies to make their own determinations. They make their own judgements.

I respect the responses which have been delivered by the French Government. Here is the core challenge. How do you ensure that the global economy does not fall into deep recession or, as we've been warned by the World Bank and others, something worse? That means us working together rather than working separately. So what does this mean for us in Australia? Given the implications, what happens in Europe flows to the entire global economy. It's important for example through the International Monetary Fund, that we in Australia and other partners beyond Europe, with our friends in Europe, also provide appropriate support for the stability of the global financial system.

The Australian Government has already made that clear and we make it clear again today, that we will be in the position of providing that support. It's not the time for countries to peel apart and blame one another for one thing and another. This is a time for us to regard the principles of global solidarity in the face of the financial and economic challenges which lie ahead, which are challenges for us all. The detailed measures embraced by Europe are known to you all, on the fiscal front and in other domains. But we in Australia will work in partnership. And the core principle is this – the working peoples of Europe and the world depend on us collectively getting these decisions right because it is not just a matter for banks and financial institutions, it's a matter for the real economy and for jobs where people's lives and livelihoods are very much at stake.

ALAIN JUPPÉ: Just a few words about that.

One of three major ratings agencies has downgraded France but the two other agencies maintain the AAA of France.

Standard & Poor's downgraded eight other countries after the United States of America.

So it's not a French problem, it's a problem of the Eurozone globally speaking.

As I said a few days ago, it's not good news of course. But it's not a catastrophe. And when you see the reaction of the markets since this decision, you see that this decision is very moderate. The last 'emission' of the markets has been made at a better rate than before.

So we have to be realistic and to keep our calm and our sang-froid. It's an incentive for France to continue to implement its economic policy on two tracks.

First of all, stopping our over-indebtedness of course and that means our public deficit, which achieved good results for last year and we are on the trend we have defined. We will reach 3 per cent in 2013 and a balanced budget in 2016.

The other track is to anchor growth and the modernisation of the French economy, especially with a program of investment in research and innovation. So I think the strategy is very well defined by the French president and the French Government and we will continue in this way.

JOURNALIST: (in French)

ALAIN JUPPÉ: (In French)

KEVIN RUDD: Can I add one thing on Syria.

Firstly, Syria represents an unfolding human rights tragedy for the people of that country. We have many, many members of the Syrian community who live in Australia and they watch this and they are reduced to tears by what they see. Many people's families have lost loved ones and we see the situation getting worse and not better.

I'd fully support remarks made just now by Foreign Minister Juppé – that is, that with the conclusion of the Arab League's mission to Syria and the report which is due today, it will be important for it to be considered promptly and expeditiously by the Security Council and for all members of the Security Council to reflect upon their obligations to deal with this matter.

Our view in Australia is that Assad must go. Our view in Australia is that in fact his case is worthy of referral to the International Criminal Court given the level of atrocities which we've seen unfold on the ground.

These are hard and difficult times and when we reflect on Syria at conferences such as this – as we speak, further atrocities are being committed. And let us be seized of that.

JOURNALIST: (In French)

How much can Australia influence China to curb its purchase from Iran of products including hydro-carbons, including oil, and what measures is Australia taking in this regard?

ALAIN JUPPÉ: (In French)

KEVIN RUDD: To respond to the part of the question directed at me and more broadly on Iran, we are living in very difficult and dangerous times with Iran. Their nuclear weapons program is well-documented. The conclusions of the International Atomic Energy Agency are clear. The Iranian Government's continued defiance of the agency's conclusions and more broadly of the international community, is of deep concern to us all. This is a very, very dangerous time.

Secondly, in terms of action by the international community, Australia fully supports the diplomacy of France and others who are engaged directly with Iran. Regrettably, Iran has not chosen to embrace a diplomatic path. Iran continues to act in defiance and therefore, we in the international community are left with very few options. Of the decisions concerning sanctions so far taken around the world, we in Australia have enacted parallel sanctions. As Europe deliberates on a further set of sanctions concerning oil imports and the freezing of other assets, we in Australia will, consistent with our own processes, reflect and act accordingly.

But our appeal is to the Iranian Government right now. These are very dangerous times. These are very difficult times. For the peace of the region, we would urge people in Tehran to step back and to take a deep breath and to consider the consequences of their current course of action.

On the question concerning other countries importing Iranian oil which you referred to – we in Australia and in Asia are in no position to dictate to any other country individually what their importing arrangements on Iranian oil may be.

But for those countries which continue to import, we would urge them to be mindful of the actions of others in the international community who are seeking to bring about the pressure necessary to get a change in the Iran Government's position. And I would urge our friends in Beijing, but elsewhere as well in Asia, to reflect seriously upon this.

Let's be clear – Iranian oil revenues are fundamental to the fiscal well-being of the Iranian regime. Therefore, in the application of pressure, this is the step which has now become necessary for the international community to cause, or to seek to bring about, a change in the position of the Government in Tehran. So we'd urge others including the countries that you referred to, to take due note of what the international communities are doing.

Let us remember that the supply of oil globally has at this stage, many other sources which can deal with the matter of price, which is legitimately a concern of many other economies around the world, and that can be undertaken through appropriate practical adjustments over time.

END

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