KIERAN GILBERT I’m joined by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Minister, you have been in talks overnight with your counterparts including John Kerry to bring them up to speed with Australia’s announcement yesterday.
JULIE BISHOP That’s right. The United States did send a letter of request for Australia to join the Coalition airstrikes in Syria. We have given that considerable assessment and analysis and as you know yesterday we decided that we would join the airstrikes, so I contacted John Kerry and discussed it with him.
Obviously there are a lot of operational details that we discussed but overall it was a very welcome decision and the United States and Australia and other Coalition partners will now work together to defeat Da’esh in Syrian airspace as well because their military bases and their supply lines cross that Syrian-Iraq border.
KIERAN GILBERT And you also spoke to your Saudi counterpart? Are the Saudis doing enough in this fight? Because there is a suggestion they don’t see eye-to-eye with Iran and certainly there are questions of whether they are doing enough in the fight against IS as well.
JULIE BISHOP They are very opposed to the Assad regime and of course Iran is backing the Assad regime. But our focus is on taking out Da’esh – the terrorist organisation that has been carrying out such brutal attacks on civilians in Syria and in Iraq. Saudi Arabia and UAE have been somewhat distracted by the conflict in Yemen but they are part of the airstrikes. They will be part of the political solution in Syria and so we agreed to continue our discussions during the United Nations General Assembly Leaders’ Week in New York shortly.
KIERAN GILBERT I want to ask you about what the Arab states are doing in terms of refugees. We will get to that in a moment. But in terms of the military deployment, the Defence Minister said this morning we will be there a number of years – he was asked to clarify what that meant – he said two or three years. Are you as optimistic as the Defence Minister and isn’t it unusual for a Defence Minister to be publicly giving a timeframe?
JULIE BISHOP We have always spoken of our engagement in Iraq, in the Middle East, in terms of years not months or days. So we have always spoken of it in those terms. And I think it is self-evident that it will take some time to defeat Da’esh – although it has been around in one form or another since the early 2000s. It then became Al Qaeda in Iraq. It was driven out of Iraq when the US strikes in Iraq really intensified, it then joined up with al-Nusra in Syria. It was then too brutal for even Al Qaeda and became Islamic State and then in 2014 declared that caliphate. So even though it has been around for a while it has built up some considerable military resources over that time, so we will need some time to defeat this terrorist organisation, but defeat it we will.
KIERAN GILBERT In two or three years, that sounds optimistic?
JULIE BISHOP Well I’m not going into specific details – that’s a matter for the Defence Minister – but we should be thinking in terms of years not months.
KIERAN GILBERT Alright. Are the Arab nations doing enough because there is a suggestion while we have stepped up to the plate in terms of 12,000 – and it has been widely welcomed that move – that the Arab States - Qatar and other nations in that region are doing nothing in terms of Syrians.
JULIE BISHOP The Saudi Foreign Minister pointed out to me that they had committed a considerable amount of money at the Kuwait pledging conference and that is true – Saudi Arabia has stumped up hundreds of millions of dollars for humanitarian support. The Foreign Minister told me they have also many Syrian refugees in Saudi Arabia and that they are providing refuge to many of them. This might not be widely known and I suggested that he should make it better known - the effort that the Saudi Arabian Government has put in.
KIERAN GILBERT When you are at the UN later this month will you be urging the Arab countries to do more given that it is their neighbourhood?
JULIE BISHOP We will certainly be urging more support for the Coalition militarily, more support for the humanitarian crisis and more support for the political solution which must be negotiated within Syria.
KIERAN GILBERT I know you have to go. Just finally, do you think you now have more capital when you go to the UN and go to these talks to say we are being a good international citizen as opposed to simply saying we have a tough border protection regime – we are actually showing some compassion here as well?
JULIE BISHOP Australia has always pulled its weight in this regard. We have been leading debates in the Security Council during 2013 and 2014 over the humanitarian crisis. We have an allocation of 4,500 permanent places that we filled with Syrians and Iraqis last year and so the 12,000 extra places, of course, will be much welcomed. Also the support for 240,000 displaced people along the border will be welcomed but Australia has always played its part and will continue to do so.
KIERAN GILBERT Minister, I appreciate your time, thank you.
JULIE BISHOP Thank you.
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