Transcript of interview with Philip Williams, ABC TV News Breakfast

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

16 April 2012

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The Foreign Minister Bob Carr has revealed Australia will partially lift sanctions against Burmese political and military leaders.

KARINA CARVALHO: He's in London for meetings with his British counterpart the Foreign Secretary William Hague. Senator Carr told Europe correspondent Philip Williams that around 260 Burmese people will no longer be subject to restrictions.

BOB CARR: Well we're easing sanctions, we're doing that after talking to Aung San Suu Kyi and others in the opposition after talking to the Government itself, after talking to other nations and it means that the number of people in the Burmese Government subject to restrictions on their financial dealings with Australia or visas to Australia will be reduced from 392 to about 130. And that removes many of the civilians from the list, and includes President Thein Sein and Government ministers. But senior serving military officers and people of human rights interest will stay subject to those Australian sanctions.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: So this is really a reward for good behaviour, are you confident that this is a path that will continue?

BOB CARR: There are people watching Burma who say this is now irreversible. There are other people who say that a government is never more vulnerable than when it's engaged in bold reforms of this type. I think the President is sincere, I think he deserves these rewards. But of course it's always possible to resume these sanctions.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Let's turn to a country that's not looking so good right at this moment and that's Afghanistan. We've got insurgents in a number of places attacking embassies in Kabul. What do you say to Australians that say, well why are we there, why are we risking the lives of our soldiers when inevitably the Taliban are just going to take over?

BOB CARR: I can understand completely what Australians are saying when they look at news like this out of Afghanistan. The fact is we're engaged in the transition. We're engaged in handing over responsibility to the Afghan forces themselves. They are going to have to carry on this fight.

So in line with everything we've said we expect the transition to be completed by the end of 2014.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: And yet when we see incidents like these attacks, full frontal attacks in the capital itself, doesn't that say to you that the Afghan Army simply isn't capable of looking after the country itself?

BOB CARR: I think without a doubt it points to the need for additional training, for up-skilling of the Afghan Army, for that process to continue. That's the most important part of the work being done by us and our partners in Afghanistan at the present time. Our job is to see that the transition works, it works for us and it works for them.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: And yet if the security situation is not strong enough, if the Afghan National Army is not strong enough to hold off the Taliban by the end of 2014, won't Australian troops stay?

BOB CARR: No we're not contemplating an enduring presence.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Whether they're ready or not?

BOB CARR: Well there are a series of Australians involved in this who point to the progress and the readiness of the Afghan security forces and I rest on their advice.

I'm not pretending for a moment that the news we're dealing with today is anything but distressing and discouraging. But we've got to persist with the job of transition.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Another very present and awkward challenge to the international community is Syria. What's plan B for the international community, for the Australian government if this falls on a heap and the slaughter of civilians continues?

BOB CARR: It's too early to say. The six points that Kofi Annan arrived at in his mission as a joint special envoy representing the UN and representing the Arab League is something that has real value. The notion of a ceasefire and the withdrawal of military forces from built up areas is the first step. And then allowing a Syrian led political transition.

I think that's our best hope. It's the plan that makes sense. But the immediate challenge is to be able to get observers in there now to look at the implementation of a ceasefire. I don't think anyone's got an alternative first step to that.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: You're in the UK. We've got a solid relationship with the UK, very few sticking points, but there is one and that's the issue of UK pensions not being indexed if you live in Australia. That means Australian governments successfully over many, many years have had to pay hundreds of millions of our taxpayer dollars to make up the difference so they're not living in absolute poverty. Are you going to take that up again?

BOB CARR: Yes I will. I'll be raising it with William Hague, my UK counterpart, and pressing the case very strongly. Australia's got a very strong case here. Previous foreign ministers have raised it without success but that won't discourage me from taking it up.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Do you find it a moral position to say, well if you go and live in the United States you get indexed, if you go and live in Australia bad luck, the Australians will pay?

BOB CARR: I'm strongly opposed to what they're doing and I'll be putting our case, which is a strong one.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: That's Senator Bob Carr, Foreign Minister, speaking to Phil Williams in London overnight.

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