JOURNALIST From Washington the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, joins me. You’ve just wrapped up talks with the Vice-President, Joe Biden, and the National Security Adviser, Susan Rice. Can you give us an update of where things are at, first of all in terms of the fight in the Middle East, Minister? And I know this comes off the back of the recent visit by the Prime Minister to the White House and the calls for European nations to do more.
JULIE BISHOP Good morning Kieran and I’m sorry I was a little late. It was an extended meeting with Vice-President Joe Biden and it’s also rather difficult getting around the icy Washington streets.
I also met with the Head of the CIA, John Brennan, and the Director of National Intelligence, General Jim Clapper, today as well as National Security Adviser Susan Rice and then the meeting with Vice-President Biden. And the issue of Syria and Iraq and the civil war in Syria and the fight against ISIL or Daesh certainly dominated our discussions. There is progress being made and the relevant parties to the civil war in Syria are being called together for a meeting so that we can progress a solution that involves a political outcome in Syria. Progress is being made against ISIL in Iraq particularly, the taking back of Ramadi was seen very much as a turning point and the strategy to contain, and ultimately defeat, ISIL appears to be progressing.
So we had a very detailed discussion about it. It is exceedingly complex. I don’t understate the complexity of the situation in Syria and Iraq but I believe there is a level of optimism that progress is being made.
JOURNALIST And is that progress leading others like the European nations to do more? Because when the official in charge, the General in charge of the operations in Iraq and Syria was asked about it, he said that Australia’s at the bottom of the list of those required to do more. There are others, namely the Europeans, who need to be doing more here. Who are we talking about specifically?
JULIE BISHOP Well it has been acknowledged by the United States from the outset that Australia is a major contributor to the effort in Iraq. Indeed, we believe that we are the second largest military contributor on the ground to the coalition efforts in Iraq.
So we are looking for others with a direct interest in a positive outcome in Syria and Iraq, and that includes countries in Europe. I think post the attacks in Paris, it was really brought home to a number of European countries that they had to do more and countries like France and Germany and Britain have responded. But also countries in the Middle East.
And I know the United States is urging other countries to do as Australia has done and put forward a greater contribution to ensure that we can bring peace to Syria, ensure that there is a stable government in Iraq and defeat this terrorist organisation that is still carrying out appalling attacks, horrendous attacks, around the world as well as causing enormous misery and suffering in Syria and Iraq.
JOURNALIST From the talks you’ve had, are the United States, is the Obama Administration working on the basis of a timeline? A timeframe in which they believe that Daesh can be destroyed?
JULIE BISHOP Well yes, they do have timeframes but I won’t share them as I don’t believe the United States will share them because obviously you don’t want to give the enemy terrorist organisations too much information. But certainly we had a very deep, detailed discussion on strategy as well as tactics as to how we will defeat this organisation. But it is very complex on many fronts. In Syria there is a civil war going on with a number of armed opposition groups. As we know, Russia has entered into the conflict in Syria and that adds a layer of complexity.
But the positive sign is that the United Nations has called for the relevant players in this conflict to come together to discuss a peace process that would involve not only a ceasefire in parts of the country but also a focus on the enemy terrorist organisation and a focus on the humanitarian situation. And there are meetings being called in Europe to focus on countering ISIL and in London, specifically, to focus on the humanitarian crisis and what more can be done. And Australia, of course, has already made a significant contribution to relieve the humanitarian crisis and, of course, we’re prepared to do more.
JOURNALIST Now your visit comes just a week or so after the Prime Minister was at the White House. One of the things that he mentioned in his remarks in the Oval Office was complimenting President Obama over the nuclear deal with Iran. That’s a controversial deal; it’s not supported by all sides in the United States. How has that endorsement by Mr Turnbull gone down there?
JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minister’s visit has been considered to be a great success here. I’ve had very positive feedback from the White House and from others including from the Senate and Capitol Hill. So the Prime Minister’s visit was exceedingly well received.
Of course, implementation day for the Iran nuclear deal occurred on 16 January and I think we achieved that date sooner than expected. That is, Iran fulfilled its side of the bargain and that led to the lifting of some, but certainly not all, sanctions. And the United States is to be congratulated on achieving first the P5+1 negotiation outcome but also the fact that Iran has fulfilled, to this point, its obligations and therefore the sanctions can be lifted but as I said, not all. Australia has lifted economic and financial sanctions but others remain in place. And this is in accordance with our UN obligations and our commitment to that resolution.
So I believe that it’s a positive sign because we have ensured that Iran will not continue down that nuclear weapons pathway, we have found some time, quite frankly, and the deal was worth doing. So from the outset, Australia has supported the negotiations with Iran and now Iran has actually complied with its initial obligations. Of course, it’s a long term proposition and we’ll continue to support the process.
JOURNALIST Alright, a couple of other issues before we wrap up. You’ve made some comments, quoted in The Australian today, relating to a motion that’s going to be moved by the Labor Party’s Friends of Palestine section of their party. Well, they’re basically going to move a motion that bans travel, sponsored travel, by MPs and officials to Israel while Benjamin Netanyahu’s Government continues the policy of settlements and increasing the size of settlements in the occupied territories. What’s your view on that and aren’t these Labor figures, you know, within their rights to be critical of Netanyahu over that policy which is seen by many, including Barack Obama, as counterproductive?
JULIE BISHOP Bill Shorten, as Leader of the Labor Party, should take a very strong stand against any such resolution. It would seem that there are some in the Labor Party who want to cling to ignorant prejudices rather than understand the facts and travel to the region and learn more about it. I can’t believe that Bill Shorten would allow such a motion to go through to ban Members of Parliament from being properly informed as to the facts on the ground. I have been on one of these visits and I know many colleagues from all sides of politics have been on these visits. They are assiduous in assuring that we meet the Palestinian leadership, the Israeli leadership and that we make up our own mind, that we make our own assessment of the facts as we see them, and surely that’s what Members of Parliament should be encouraged to do, not banned from travelling and maintaining this ignorant prejudice that obviously exists within the Labor Party.
JOURNALIST Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, I appreciate your time there live from Washington this morning. Thank you for that. We’ll chat to you soon.
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