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Monday, 10 October 1994
Page: 1295

Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Gareth Evans. Following reports of massive numbers of Iraqi troops near Iraq's border with Kuwait, I ask: can the minister inform the Senate of the Australian government's position in light of these recent reports? Further, what is the current situation involving any Australians in Kuwait or Iraq? Has Australia been approached to provide any military support to allied deployments in the gulf?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The latest information available to me is that seven divisions of Iraqi troops have moved to within 25 to 30 kilometres of the border with Kuwait. Iraqi troops do not at this stage appear to be operationally ready for an invasion of Kuwait; however, their proximity to the border and the presence of major elements of three divisions of Iraq's elite Republican Guard do, of course, give rise for some concern in that respect. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's intentions are unclear. They certainly have not been made public. He has not indicated the purpose of these troop movements and he has not given a reliable assurance that Iraq harbours no aggressive intention towards Kuwait.

  In response to these developments it is, of course, the case that Kuwait has initiated defensive deployments of its own and it has called on military support from the United States and the United Kingdom, which has been provided to the extent that the US has deployed 4,000 troops to Kuwait, placed another 14,000 on special alert and is moving an aircraft carrier into the region. The UK is also in the process of deploying naval assets to the gulf.

  It has been, I suppose, the general assessment—it is shared by our own officials who are tracking and monitoring these events very closely—that it is unlikely that there will be an aggressive act against Kuwait in the near future; but, of course, nobody is making any absolute assumptions about that and the readiness to deal with a situation of this kind, should it arise, is as I have described it. The view that has been taken is that, given the lack of operational readiness that presently exists among the Iraqi troops, the time taken to gain operational readiness would be ample for necessary counterforce deployments to be put in place.

  While no-one is entirely clear about what the Iraqi motives are in this whole affair, clearly their behaviour does seem linked to the question of the continued application of sanctions and, in this context, any further Iraqi moves seem likely to follow or be delayed until the release in New York today—New York time—of the report of the head of the UN Special Commission, which has the responsibility of ensuring the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has demanded that that report set a time frame for monitoring the elimination of these weapons, after which the council would consider the lifting of sanctions against Iraq. We will need to await, I guess, the course of events over the next 24 hours in relation to the content of that report and Iraq's reaction to it.

  As to the Australian position, we certainly fully support the statement by the President of the Security Council two days ago emphasising the necessity for Iraq to fully implement all relevant Security Council resolutions and reaffirming the Security Council's commitment to Kuwait's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Apart from two Australian Defence Force personnel serving with the UN Special Commission in Baghdad, Australia has no military personnel or units presently in the gulf. There has been no approach to the Australian government to contribute to the current defensive build-up in Kuwait.

  Our embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has been in contact with the Australian community in Kuwait, which reports that the situation in Kuwait City remains quite calm. Arrangements are in place for liaison and rapid communication of advice on the situation within the Australian community. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and will remain in close contact in particular with the Australian community in Kuwait through our embassy in Riyadh and also with the Australian community in Iraq, including Care Australia representatives in northern Iraq, through our embassy, in this case, in Amman.