JULIE BISHOP: I’m pleased to be here in Washington DC. I have taken this opportunity to meet with members of the new Trump Administration, including Vice President Mike Pence today. This is my third engagement with the Vice President and we had a very warm, friendly and constructive discussion.
I’ll be meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tomorrow and I’ve also taken the opportunity to meet with other branches of the US government, including members of the Intelligence community and also speaking with Congressmen and women. This has been a very positive meeting here and I’m pleased that I’ve been the first Australian minister to visit Washington since the Trump Inauguration; And for the opportunity here today also to unveil the scaffolding around the Australian Embassy promoting tourism and my thanks to Qantas for supporting this initiative.
JOURNALIST: Minister, on the issues, did you discuss the Manus, Nauru refugee deal with Vice President Pence and, if so, what’s the status of it?
JULIE BISHOP: The agreement is progressing and our officials are working together with United States officials to vet the applicants for settlement in the United States.
JOURNALIST: Just on that deal Minister, would you characterise it as a people swap deal?
JULIE BISHOP: No I would not.
JOURNALIST: Mr Dutton had said last night that it could be categorized as that way – do you disagree with him?
JULIE BISHOP: That’s not the way I would categorize it. Australia is a very generous nation when it comes resettling those who are found to be refugees from all over the world and we’ll continue to do so. We are seeking to resettle a number of people who came via the people smuggling trade, and have been in Nauru in particular, with the United States but we will continue to take refugees from across the world as we’ve always done.
JOURNALIST: What’s your realistic assessment of the fact that the Trump Administration has said yes this deal may go ahead but oh sorry on the vetting few or none of them are actually going to get resettled here?
JULIE BISHOP: It’s always been subject to the United States consideration of those that they wish to resettle and the United States is likewise a very generous nation when it comes to resettling refugees and I’m sure they’ll continue to do so.
JOURNALIST: Did you discuss Australia’s offer to resettle refugees from Cost Rica with Mike Pence and did you convey to him the sentiments from Minister Dutton that they wouldn’t be resettled until our refuges were resettled and from your discussions do you think Mike Pence sees this as a people swap arrangement?
JULIE BISHOP: That didn’t come up in our conversation.
JOURNALIST: Minister Dutton had expressed the view that movements may occur “in the next couple of months”. Did you discuss a timeline for movement of people?
JULIE BISHOP: The matter is being dealt with at officials’ level and the agreement is still being progressed.
JOURNALIST: Did you discuss more commitment from Australia to the fight against Da’esh in Iraq and Syria?
JULIE BISHOP: We discussed the fight against ISIS in general terms. There is a review in the United States underway as to the strategy for defeating ISIS and I gave some input into the Vice President’s thinking. We had quite a broad ranging discussion but I’m not going to go into any specific details obviously but there is a review underway and Australia will continue to provide our input, our thoughts and our ideas on that matter.
JOURNALIST: Did the scope of that conversation entertain the possibility of an enhanced or an enlarged Australian military contribution in the Middle East?
JULIE BISHOP: No it did not.
JOURNALIST: Can you give us the scope of the input that you gave the Vice President?
JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly we want to be part of the strategic thinking of the United States because we have been a major contributor to the Coalition to defeat ISIS and we will continue to do so. This affects Australia, it affects our security. The number of foreign terrorist fighters leaving Iraq and Syria as more gains are being made against them is a concern for our region and we discussed our counter terrorism cooperation in South East Asia as well.
JOURNALIST: What about the potential for a strategic realignment in the Middle East between the US and Russia? Did you express any view on that possibility?
JULIE BISHOP: We certainly discussed many global and regional as well as bilateral issues and we certainly spent some time discussing the situation in Iraq and Syria where gains are being made, but of course we have to look at post-defeat of ISIS environments and scenarios.
JOURNALIST: Did the Vice President give you any indication of what might be coming in the revised executive order on immigration?
JULIE BISHOP: We discussed that but not in the sort of detail that I can share with you.
JOURNALIST: Did you discuss the two-state solution for the Palestinian crisis?
JULIE BISHOP: Not in detail.
JOURNALIST: Mr Pence had just returned from Europe where he had asked NATO partners who he thought were underdone on military contributions there to lift their game. Did he address at all Australia’s effort in our region?
JULIE BISHOP: In all of my engagements with Vice President Pence, including today, he has spoken very warmly of the alliance between Australia and the United States. He spoke in very positive terms about our commitment to working with the United States and other partners and allies to meet global and regional challenges, and he most certainly spoke in very positive terms about our contribution to military efforts, including in Iraq and Syria.
JOURNALIST: Can you give us an idea of what you might discuss with the Secretary of State tomorrow?
JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly we will discuss global, regional and bilateral issues. I’m not going to pre-empt the discussion I have with the Secretary but I’ve already had a long telephone conversation with Secretary Tillerson. It was very positive and I expect that we will continue that discussion on areas of common interest and concern, and I’ll certainly take the opportunity to put Australia’s perspective – our views, our thoughts and our ideas. This is an opportunity for us with the new Administration to make known Australia’s interest and priorities. Of course we share common values and interests with the United States and there are new considerations, new strategies, new thoughts being implemented by this Administration and we want to be part of that thinking.
JOURNALIST: Minister, when they ask what is Australia’s position on the two-state solution, what’s your answer?
JULIE BISHOP: Our answer is consistent. Our answer is that Australia has long supported, on a bipartisan basis, a two-state solution where the Israeli people and the Palestinian people can live side by side and behind internationally recognized boundaries. We want to see the Palestinians return to the negotiating table with the Israelis. We believe that the final outcome will only be resolved by two parties – the Israelis and the Palestinians.
JOURNALIST: Minister, it was obviously a bumpy start to the relationship between Australia and the US after that phone call between Mr Trump and Malcolm Turnbull. How would you characterise it now – were you in there to sort of soothe things today with the Vice President?
JULIE BISHOP: I’ve had two previous telephone conversations with the Vice President. This was my opportunity to meet him face to face. It was very warm, it was very friendly. We spoke about many things. The meeting went longer than scheduled, which is always a good sign, because we had so many issues to discuss. We exchanged information and ideas and it was a positive, constructive discussion between partners, allies and friends.
JOURNALIST: Did he explain or express any regret about the way that conversation panned out – particularly the leak aspect of it?
JULIE BISHOP: That matter didn’t come up. We spoke about areas where we’re working together, areas where we have common challenges and where Australia and the United States can hopefully solve some of the issues confronting our region and globally. We are very strong strategic and defence partners. We are very strong economic partners. It’s great basis upon which to strengthen this already remarkable relationship.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the US Commander in Afghanistan has said that there’s a stalemate there. He’s indicated there’s a shortage of coalition troops there. Did Afghanistan come up today in your discussions with the Vice President?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes it did.
JOURNALIST: Are they entertaining more commitments there? And if so would Australia entertain the idea of more commitments to Afghanistan?
JULIE BISHOP: These are early days for the new Administration and there are still a number of significant appointments to be made or confirmed and so many matters are under review. And Australia is here to be helpful to offer ideas and insights and support where necessary. Of course our troop commitments are always under review and I believe our contribution in Afghanistan is appropriate at present.
JOURNALIST: Is any further contact between the President and the Prime Minister likely - or any more likely after your discussions today?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m sure that the Prime Minister and the President will meet and will continue to engage as leaders of our nations always have and always will I suggest.
JOURNALIST: When do you believe they will meet? Are their plans underway for them to meet?
JULIE BISHOP: There are plans underway.
JOURNALIST: And do we have any dates of when that might be?
JULIE BISHOP: Not that I can share with you.
JOURNALIST: Would you expect it this year sometime in Washington, Minister?
JULIE BISHOP: I would hope so. They are both going to a number of meetings I believe – although the President’s schedule and the Prime Minister’s schedule are not yet confirmed for later in the year but I would expect there would be an opportunity for them to meet.
JOURNALIST: Did Vice President Mike Pence give you any indication of what’s happening with the Paris Climate Deal?
JULIE BISHOP: We discussed a range of issues but didn’t go into a great deal of detail. I expect to have longer discussions with Secretary Tillerson tomorrow. I did invite the Vice President to visit Australia and he certainly hopes to do that as soon as possible. I think it’s important that a senior member of the Administration visit Australia and visit our region. The Secretary of Defence has been in South Korea and Japan – Secretary Mattis – and I’m hoping that the Vice President will also be able to visit Australia when he tours the region.
JOURNALIST: Ms Julie Bishop we had the extraordinary series of meetings in Bonn and Munich last week where Mr Pence, Mr Tillerson and others from the new Administration were all lining up behind microphones to tell audiences that our President didn’t mean what he said or we don’t mean what our President said. Where does credibility stand in global diplomacy these days and how can you believe a word that anyone tells you in this city?
JULIE BISHOP: That’s not how I’d characterise their media appearances. I watched them and I thought that the Secretaries and the senior members of the Administration were setting out US policies. It’s a new Administration, of course people are very interested to hear whether there’s going to be a change in policy, and I found the statements very reassuring as I’m sure other NATO allies did as well. The United States is committed to a leadership role. The United States is asking other countries to share the burden of ending conflicts and resolving challenges around the world and Australia is certainly of that mind set. We believe that we have a role to play in working with the United States and other partners and allies in ending conflict and trying to bring peace, stability and security – certainly to our part of the world.
JOURNALIST: Do you feel there is a disconnect, though, between the President and the Vice President now that we’ve had a few weeks to deal with both of them?
JULIE BISHOP: That’s certainly not the impressions that I gained from my meeting with Vice President Pence today.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you met with the intelligence agencies or spoke to them today – the President has been pretty critical of them or some of the leaks purporting to come out of them. Australia’s Intelligence agencies have a very, very close working relationship with intelligence agencies here – what sort of faith do you and intelligence agencies in Canberra have in US counterparts?
JULIE BISHOP: You are absolutely right, there is a very close relationship between our security and intelligence agencies and those in the United States and I have no doubt that that will continue. It’s in the interest of our country and might I suggest it’s in the interest of the United State for us to maintain a very close engagement on matters of security and intelligence, and Australia’s contribution and Australia’s role was deeply appreciated and that has come from the White House and also from the intelligence agencies. Of course issues such as leaks are a concern for any government at any time and I understand that these matters are being taken very seriously by the White House.
JOURNALIST: Did the topic of China and South China Sea come up in today’s discussions?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes it did.
JOURNALIST: What’s your assessment in the early days of US-China relations- things seem to have calmed down a little bit over the last week or two since Mr Tillerson’s provocative comments some weeks ago about potential to block US ships from accessing islands in the South China Sea.
JULIE BISHOP: You might recall that Chinese foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Canberra about two weeks ago and during a very long press conference he made it clear that from China’s perspective the relationship with the United States was one of the most significant, if not the most significant bilateral relationship in the world today, and that because both sides had so much at stake they would be working towards a very constructive relationship with the United States, and that’s an impression that I’ve also gained from my discussions with the Secretary of State and the Vice President – that the region, indeed the globe, needs a constructive relationship between the United States and China and that both sides are working towards that.
JOURNALIST: Just on trade, the White House, or its spokesman, has recently as today said that all trade agreements would be reviewed by this administration. Was that discussed with Vice President Pence along the lines of Australia either being exempt, or fully included, in that review?
JULIE BISHOP: No, the Australia-US free trade agreement was not raised and as I’ve said previously, the United States enjoys a trade surplus in that free trade agreement – it’s been in place since 2005, it has benefited both our countries enormously and if there were to be a review of the Australia-US free trade agreement I’m sure it would find that it has been of benefit to the United States, it has been of benefit to Australia.
Indeed, I did note, that one of the biggest investors in the shale revolution in the US is BHP Billiton, and Austal Ships is now the fourth largest ship builder in the United States. So Australians are benefitting from access to the US market, and as I said the US runs a trade surplus with Australia – so both sides benefit in terms of economic growth and job opportunities as we export our goods and services into each other’s market.
JOURNALIST: Ms Bishop – how long was your meeting with Mr Pence?
JULIE BISHOP: I think it was almost an hour.
JOURNALIST: Did you happen to have many chance encounters or come across Mr Trump while you were at the White House today minister?
JULIE BISHOP: No I didn’t, I was in the Vice President’s office and it was just the Vice President and his chief of staff and a couple of others.
JOURNALIST: You haven’t been invited to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend?
JULIE BISHOP: I won’t be in the United States on the weekend, so no, I won’t be there.
JOURNALIST: Your meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister recently, Australia’s former Ambassador to China Geoff Raby suggested in an opinion piece that you had subtly changed Australia’s position on the South China Sea, and if I could verbal him, he suggested that essentially, rather than foreign powers such as the US getting involved in the debate he suggests that you are now agreeing with China that this should just be up to the claimants from Asia to determine. Is that a correct characterisation?
JULIE BISHOP: I haven’t changed my position on the South China Sea at all. In fact I re-stated the position, which has been consistent throughout, to Foreign Minister Wang Yi and he’s heard me say that many times before – and that is that Australia is not a claimant state, we don’t take sides on the varying disputes and claims. What we call for is for a de-escalation of tensions, we do not support land reclamation or the militarisation of the islands, and we urge the parties, the claimants to resolve their differences peacefully, negotiate as long as the outcome is in accordance with international law, or resort to arbitration as the Philippines did through UNCLOS. That has been my position, that has been the Australian Government’s position, it’s been consistent.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, surely it is in the interests of de-escalating tensions in the region if the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson doesn’t say things like China’s actions in the region are similar to the annexing of the Crimea. Are words like that de-escalating tensions?
JULIE BISHOP: They are not the words that Secretary Tillerson has used in any conversation with me, nor have I heard him say it at the G20 foreign minister’s meeting. I think Australia has a role to play in putting our perspective and we have been consistent on the South China Sea. It’s a matter we say publicly and privately to the United States, to China, and other claimant states, and it’s a matter that we will continue to urge – that there be a de-escalation of tensions and that the parties resolve their differences peacefully. After all Australia has a very deep national interest in peace and stability in the South China Sea, the majority of our exports go through the South China Sea, that’s why we continue to exercise our rights to freedom of overflight and freedom of navigation to ensure that international trade can continue unimpeded.
JOURNALIST: Did the joint strike fighter come up today in the program minister?
JULIE BISHOP: Not in that sort of detail. We spoke generally about our military commitment and our defence industry and our increases to military spending and the fact that we will be having a much enhanced defence industry in Australia.
JOURNALIST: Is that something that the Vice President expressed interest in Australia – making sure it gets to 2 per cent of GDP as quickly as it can like he was saying to NATO members the other day?
JULIE BISHOP: The United States is already aware of our proposal, and our policy is that defence spending be 2 per cent of GDP, they’re very well aware of that.
JOURNALIST: On ISIS in the Middle East, the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has come out and said that Australia should be providing more troops. He says “provided there’s a sensible plan we should be prepared to help our allies” and then he goes on to say “including by doing more in the Middle East.” Not on the troops deployment as such, but on Tony Abbott’s involvement, is that helpful for you on the world stage for him to be providing these, this commentary for media?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia is already one of the major contributors to the effort to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Indeed at one point we were the second largest contributor after the United States, I believe we’re now the third largest contributor, and we have been there from the outset. Of course, our deployment is always under review and I believe it is appropriate at this time we are contributing to the effort, progress is being made, yet of course we always have our contribution to a military effort under review.
JOURNALIST: Should Tony Abbott be intervening in this debate and making statements like that?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I don’t know that he’s intervening. His comments are being reported by the media and as a Member of Parliament that’s perfectly appropriate.
JOURNALIST: So the commitment’s always under review, it’s appropriate at the moment, but you’re open to the possibility of that being changed at some point in the future?
JULIE BISHOP: We’ve not been asked to change our contribution. Our contribution is appropriate, we are one of the major contributors. I’ve been to a number of meetings of the coalition–the anti-ISIS coalition, the Friends of Syria meeting–and at every occasion Australia’s contribution has been welcomed and acknowledged.
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