PRESENTER The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, had brokered an extraordinary intelligence sharing deal with Iran. They have agreed to exchange information on Australians fighting with the Islamic State, also known as Daesh. Ms Bishop met with Iran’s Foreign Minister, President and head of the National Security Council on Saturday in Tehran. She says Australia began exploring intelligence sharing on this issue late last year. Those efforts were spurred on when Iranian refugee, Man Haron Monis, took hostages in the fatal incident in Martin Place in Sydney in December. Middle East correspondent Matt Brown spoke to Julie Bishop in Tehran.
JULIE BISHOP We have a common purpose with Iran in defeating Daesh and helping the Iraqi Government. During my discussions with the national leadership here, it was agreed that we could share intelligence, particularly on the foreign terrorist fighters from Australia who are taking part in this conflict in Iraq. So it was an informal arrangement whereby we would share intelligence that would give us information on the Australians who are taking part and I believe that Iran has information that we would seek and they were very agreeable to share that information with us.
MATT BROWN So there is actually something there to be had? It’s not just in theory? You believe they would have information that they’ve gathered on Australians?
JULIE BISHOP I believe there would be practical outcomes to this arrangement.
MATT BROWN They have obviously got the Iranian military in Iraq, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The commander is on Facebook and Twitter with photos all over the place, so they have a capacity to gather that intelligence. Do you have any understanding of how they would be getting this information on Australians?
JULIE BISHOP Iran has a long-standing relationship with Iraq and, as you point out, they have a very strong military presence there. They also have an influence over the Shia militia who are operating within Iraq and we had a discussion about the Shia militia and their role. So they are in Iraq in places that we are not. They also have a very sophisticated intelligence network and there is a lot of information that they have been gathering.
MATT BROWN You refer to this as an intelligence exchange, so what would Australia be giving Iran either on this subject or in exchange for that information?
JULIE BISHOP Well I won’t go into details of our intelligence sharing arrangements, but obviously if Iran has information that would be of interest to us, if we have information that would be of interest to them in pursuing our common purpose of defeating Daesh, then that’s an appropriate exchange.
MATT BROWN The Iranian involvement in Iraq is obviously not entirely benign. I mean, they’ve got influence over these Shiite militias, training them, advising them in the field. They’ve been accused of gross human rights violations, but on the subject of Australian Islamic State fighters, isn’t there a danger that if you’re saying, “Do you know Australian X, Y, Z is in Ramadi somewhere”, that ultimately it could lead to Shiite militia members being tasked to go an kill this guy or capture him?
JULIE BISHOP I’m not going into those kinds of details. I mean, that is obviously a matter of deep intelligence-operational issues. So, what I’m saying is that we are both seeking to defeat Daesh.
MATT BROWN But talking to Iran about Australians in Iraq isn’t like talking to the Red Cross, is it? I mean, these are very dangerous people and dangerous organisations.
JULIE BISHOP We are advising any Australian not to go to Iraq, not to go to Syria. They are putting their lives at risk and Australians will be killed if they go to Iraq and Syria by Daesh and there are many examples, tragically, where Australians have been killed in the conflict here. So our very strong message, our strong warning to any Australian considering coming over to take part in this conflict is: don’t do it.
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