FRANS TIMMERMANS Good evening and welcome to the Dutch Embassy. My Australian colleague, Minister Bishop and I have spent a long and fruitful day here in Kyiv. It is very important for us as the Netherlands and for Australia as one of our most important partners in this endeavour that today the Netherlands was officially put in charge of the investigation.
We signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Ukraine. This will now enable us to take up the full responsibility for the investigation. But it goes without saying that the Netherlands will do this in a broad international team and we especially highly value the cooperation with Australia both because we have the same goal. Our main goal is to bring our people home as soon as we can. We have the same sentiments in our societies. People want their loved ones to come back home. We have the same view on the need to find out what has happened and we share the same international inspiration because thanks to Julie Bishop, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution which enables us to do this work in Ukraine.
So I’m actually very happy with the results of today’s visits. We also talked at great length with our Ukrainian counterparts but also with the representatives of the OSCE about how we can improve the operation of recovering the remains.
Because that is really critical operation and I must say that I have great admiration for both the way the Ukrainian Government has handled the issue and supported us and the way the OSCE has been extremely helpful. The fact that now we have this breathtaking ceremony in Eindhoven yesterday which Julie and I attended, and again repetition of the same ceremony today, was only possible because of the strong support and cooperation of the Ukrainian authorities and the OSCE.
JULIE BISHOP Thanks Frans. Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands and I along with many dignitaries from both our countries and the international community, attended one of the most moving and dignified ceremonies that one could imagine which represented the beginning of the journey home for the victims of the air crash on the 17th of July. And today, Foreign Minister Timmermans and I travelled to Ukraine in order to start the process of implementing the terms of the UN Security Council resolution authored by Australia, and passed unanimously by the UNSC and co-sponsored by nations including the Netherlands.
The terms include ensuring that the site of the crash is secured, that the bodies are recovered, and we were united in our determination to ensure that all 298 are accounted for. That the personal belongings of the passengers and crew who died on that crash are recovered and returned to the families and that an investigation into the cause of the crash can be commenced. And today, wherever we went, we were met with such incredible goodwill and everyone had the same goal. And that is to be able to give assurance to the families in the countries affected that we are in the process of bringing their loved ones home.
I want to pay tribute to President Poroshenko and to the Foreign Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and all of the authorities and representatives of the Ukrainian government for they have been unstinting in their support. They are wholeheartedly supporting our efforts to recover the bodies, bring them home and commence an investigation in to this crash. The moment when my colleague, Foreign Minister Timmermans and President Poroshenko, signed the agreement transferring responsibility for the investigation to the Netherlands was indeed a significant milestone in what has been a harrowing week.
I also want to thank the representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe who met with us and assured us that they were also committed to working with the Netherlands, Australia, Ukraine and all of the parties involved to ensure that we can meet our goals.
I want to thank my colleague, the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, whose personal commitment and dedication and energy has been truly inspiring. We certainly couldn’t have come this far without Frans’ personal commitment to representing his country and the people of the Netherlands who have suffered so much as a result of this appalling incident.
Finally I want to thank the Australian team here in Kyiv, led by Angus Houston, our Ambassador to Warsaw Jean Dunn and about 70 Australians who are here working around the clock to ensure that we can bring closure to the families who have suffered so much. It’s been a very productive day and I feel sure that progress will continue to gain momentum and that we will achieve the goals as set out in the Security Council resolution of last Monday.
FRANS TIMMERMANS Briefly to add on, tomorrow we will be travelling on to Kharkiv to look at the people who are taking care of the operation there and doing a very very difficult job indeed. To show our appreciation for what they’re doing there.
JOURNALIST Minister Bishop, we all share the goal of getting the bodies back. What concrete do-able systems are you going to put in place to do that? And isn’t it a reality that given the dire security situation in rebel held lands, close to fighting, that that may not be possible for weeks, months or longer.
JULIE BISHOP I am very optimistic after today’s meetings that we will have in place the legal and operational framework that will enable our mission to be carried out as soon as possible. We’re not talking about weeks, we’re talking about days. I feel confident that with the legal and operational matters underway that we’ll be in a position to start work on the site without much further delay.
JOURNALIST Given what you haven’t addressed is the role of the rebels. How are you going to go on that site if they decide you don’t and with what sort of protection will you have?
JULIE BISHOP That was the purpose of our meeting with the OSCE today. They have been dealing with the separatists for some time now, they have established a relationship of trust. We’re taking their specific advice and working very closely with them. And that’s what we agreed this afternoon, that we would cooperate and work in tandem with the OSCE to ensure that we get the cooperation of the separatists.
As for other matters regarding security, that’s precisely what our officials will be working through in the following hours and days ahead of us. So they will be operational matters that our officials will determine and will obviously be taking expert advice. Australia and the Netherlands are absolutely in lockstep over this. Our officials, our experts, our people will be resolving these issues. In fact a great deal of work has already been done in anticipation of us being able to put in place the legal framework as we’ve done today.
JOURNALIST Question in Dutch.
FRANS TIMMERMANS Response in Dutch
JOURNALIST There’s nobody investigating right now. What’s the delay?
FRANS TIMMERMANS There are people in the field on a daily basis. There are people there today and tomorrow. We need to ensure that this operation is increased so that we step up the efforts to make sure the remains are found and repatriated. We are in the process of analysing what is needed to achieve that goal.
JULIE BISHOP It wasn’t until today that the legal framework was put in place. For example Australia has experts on the site today and there have been experts from other countries this week. We will now be able to coordinate all the information and the efforts that have gone on to date.
JOURNALIST We’ve heard about the want of security for the site to make sure what evidence remains is intact, to make sure the people working there are safe. There’s been suggestion that there are police on their way from Australia to London and then to here to secure the site. Can you give some insight of what your discussions were with the OSCE today? Did they tell you it would be okay to bring those police to the site? Did they advise against it? Will you have to talk to the separatists?
JULIE BISHOP Our Prime Minister said earlier today that we had as part of our contingency planning, deployed a number of police to London so that they were in Europe ready to be further deployed if that was able to be achieved. So we do have people available. What we did with the OSCE today was work out the parameters of what we could do and of course they are dealing with the separatists so we’re working through a list of what we need and what can be achieved. And we will coordinate with the representatives of the OSCE who have the relationship with the separatists and we must continue to work closely with them to ensure we can achieve our goal. I’m confident as a result of those conversations they’ll be able to represent our interests and what we’re seeking to achieve in their discussions with the separatists.
JOURNALIST Did they indicate they would be able to bring in the police?
JULIE BISHOP Obviously this is part of a negotiation. The OSCE is in no doubt as to what the Netherlands and Australia wish to achieve and as part of the negotiations with the separatists we’ll see what the result is. But there was an enormous level of goodwill and understanding of what we need in order to carry out the investigation. And of course the Netherlands, as the lead in this, obviously has a number of requirements and we back them. Absolutely, totally. And I’m sure that given the conversations we had today we will be able to achieve our goals.
JOURNALIST One way of making this crash site and its surroundings a safer place would be a ceasefire or peace. Was this part of the negotiations with the Ukrainian government, did you demand this? Because Mr Klimkin is saying there will be a ceasefire and somehow promised this, what can you tell me about that?
FRANS TIMMERMANS President Poroshenko was very clear to both of us and said there is a ceasefire and we will maintain that ceasefire as long as it is necessary. So he made that pledge to us in the meeting we had with him. So he said Ukrainian forces will not use violence, will not use military force at the site and an area of 40km surrounding the site. As long as we still need to do our job.
JOURNALIST Channel 9 – Today they found even more body parts at the site. They could be Australian. Obviously you said you’d managed to get three Australian officials including one forensic investigator. Why not more already? What the difference to the safety of three to the safety of more to expedite bring these people, potentially Australians, home.
JULIE BISHOP Access to the site is negotiated with the separatists. This site is in the middle of territory that is held by the Russian-backed separatists who have weapons, are heavily armed with very sophisticated equipment. So our access to the site is as a result of negotiation with the OSCE and each country, Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, has had to negotiate a time and a place and we were restricted to three. So we sent three experts. But as a result of the discussions today, as a result of the Netherlands signing the agreement that transfers responsibility to them, as a result of our discussions with the OSCE I feel confident that we now have a legal framework in place whereby the operations can begin in earnest. I feel confident that over the next few days we’ll see significant progress.
JOURNALIST Question in Dutch.
FRANS TIMMERMANS Response in Dutch.
JOURNALIST Is there likely to be more progress dealing with the Netherlands than the Ukrainian government?
JULIE BISHOP That’s obviously part of our thinking behind the Netherlands taking the lead in this crash, that was a strategic decision that the Netherlands and Australia took last Sunday when Russia indicated it would veto the resolution if Ukraine were the country to instigate the criminal investigation and the air investigation. It had to be Ukraine because under the Chicago Convention they were the state where the crash had occurred and so now that Ukraine has transferred legal responsibility to the Netherlands we feel that we’ll get more progress.
JOURNALIST I’ve come from that area there, it’s very insecure and things can change very rapidly. It’s an extremely difficult environment. I guess what I’m asking is what concrete practical way can we secure that site?
JULIE BISHOP I can assure you that Australia will not allow our experts, our representatives, our officials to put themselves in danger without security so we will protect our people and that’s what our officials are working through now – the operational aspects of it – so we will not put them in unnecessary danger to achieve the goal of securing the site. That means securing the site so that a proper air crash investigation can take place and including the media, everybody will have to respect the fact that from now on the Netherlands is in charge of the investigation on that site and will put the appropriate frameworks and protocols in place.
JOURNALIST Is the bottom line a guarantee of safety from the rebels. Is that what our government needs for officials going in?
JULIE BISHOP I won’t go into the details of what we requested the OSCE ask of the separatists but I assure you that we are looking at all contingencies, all outcomes and putting in place the operational framework that will ensure we can achieve our goal and we can do it safely.
JOURNALIST You are going to Kharkiv tomorrow, is that because the final bodies are expected to be farewelled?
JULIE BISHOP That’s right, we understand that the final caskets will be loaded and they will leave at 12 noon tomorrow. So we wanted to see the operations there, speak to our people there but also pay our respects to the bodies that will be leaving tomorrow.
JOURNALIST Will you fly back to the Netherlands?
JULIE BISHOP I’m flying back with the Dutch Foreign Minister. We flew in with the Dutch today and we’ll be flying out with them back to Amsterdam.
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