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Transcript of joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit: Cairo: 11 December 2010: Australia-Egypt relations

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Minister’s Office: 02 6277 7500 or 0466 745 615 Department: 02 6261 1555


The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP




Subjects: Australia-Egypt relations,


Foreign Minister Aboulgheit: We are happy today to receive the Australian Foreign Minister, Mr. Kevin Rudd who is a renowned international figure. He met President Mubarak this morning. We had a meeting where we discussed bilateral relations. His meetings today whether with the President or in the afternoon confirmed the desire of both Egypt and Australia to boost bilateral relations. We celebrate today the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations- these are old relations established in 1950. We will issue a joint press release about today’s visit which reflects the strength of these relations. We also agreed to establish an Egypt-Australia economic forum to boost relations on the economic level as well as the financial and investment fields. We discussed Middle East regional issues, the Palestinian issue, the Iranian nuclear file, the situation in the Gulf region and maritime navigation lines. Following this press conference, we will continue to listen to the visiting Minister’s views concerning the situation in Asia in general. Australia is close to Asia and concerned with Asian issues- Australia’s influence is well-known here and it is important to hear its views.

Minister’s Office: 02 6277 7500 or 0466 745 615 Department: 02 6261 1555


Foreign Minister Rudd: Thank you very much, Foreign Minister and thank you for your kind hospitality in having me here at the Foreign Ministry’s reception centre here this afternoon in Cairo. And could I begin by again affirming the strength of this important bilateral relationship. A 60th anniversary celebration is important because it causes us to reflect on what we have done together and what we resolve to do together in the future.

Over the last 60 years we have seen great contact between our two countries and so many Australians of Egyptian origin have made their home in our country. Each year we welcome thousands of Egyptian students to Australia. They are welcome in our country as we welcome tens of thousands of students from the Arab world. They become some of the many strengths of human bridges between our two cultures and our two countries for the future.

For the future, the Minister and I today agreed upon the establishment of an Egypt-Australia economic forum. For those of you who think that the function of ministers is simply to agree to a statement which has already been produced, let me say that the idea of this Egypt-Australia economic forum was something we developed in the course of the last hour. So, foreign ministers of Egypt and Australia do not just do that which their officials tell them to do. At the shape of this-

FM Aboulgheit: I assure you so.

FM Rudd: Thank you. The Foreign Minister and I have agreed that we will meet this forum each year and we will begin next year here in Cairo. We’ve discussed four areas of potential cooperation. And by cooperation I mean also commercial engagement. Obviously the mining industry is one. We are one of the biggest mining countries in the world. Secondly in dry land farming and agriculture and food security both here and in the world we have agreed this should be the focus of our cooperation as well. Third we discussed of course the financial services sector where Australia currently runs the fourth largest funds management industry anywhere in the world. And the fourth lies in how do we expand further the engagement between our academic institutions, our students, our scholars in areas of common interest. And our vision is not simply to do this at an official and diplomatic level but through the forum to engage the leaders of industry and research in both our countries.

On the wider foreign policy agenda of course the Minister and I, as I did with the President this morning, discussed three challenges which we now currently face. Firstly, the Middle East peace process and the lack of progress to date in bringing about a conclusion which will provide for a just and sustainable peace settlement for the Middle East with a secure and independent Israel and a secure and independent Palestine. I agree with our friends in Egypt as I do with our friends in Jordan and elsewhere that this is not the time for business as usual or politics as usual. We have to redouble our efforts. And this is an issue of wider and profound security significance for the overall region and beyond.

Minister’s Office: 02 6277 7500 or 0466 745 615 Department: 02 6261 1555


Secondly we discussed of course the challenges of nuclear Iran as well as the challenges of nuclear policy across the wider region. Our policy in Australia is clear on this. We believe that all states including Israel should become party to the NPT. Secondly, we have long argued that Iran, a member of the NPT must adhere to its obligations which it presently is not doing. Thirdly, we’ve indicated already internationally that we would be prepared to support a conference in 2012 to begin discussing the possibility of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East.

Finally, on Sudan and the upcoming referendum on the 8th of January, the Minister and I exchanged a considerable range of views. We are deeply engaged on this question as it has profound significance for the wider Nile Delta region but also security in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. And we would call for restraint on the part of all parties as we approach the difficult days of the 8th of January. And our hope that this referendum is conducted peacefully and, depending on its resolution, that there is a peaceful management of the process subsequent to that.

So Prime Minister, thank you for having me in this beautiful building and showing me some of the history of this building and the history of Egyptian foreign policy. I’m pleased and honored to have been your guest here today.

Question: Concerning the political issues discussed today, concerning the Palestinian case- the American Secretary of State announced that the US has abandoned its efforts to convince both parties to go back to negotiations. What is the Egyptian position? What’s Australia’s position concerning Israel’s insistence on its settlement policy?

FM Aboulgheit: Let me say that the current situation will be clearer in the coming hours and days when Senator Mitchell arrives in the region on Monday. We will begin discussions on the American position. The American side has not declared that it abandoned its efforts. It said that it is committed to continuing its efforts to reach a settlement. Direct negotiations are currently on halt because of Israeli soberness in the issue of settlements. This position is unacceptable. We will hear the American views which understand now that we should concentrate on the end game. Americans ask all sides to express their comprehensive views and then they will formulate a final solution. These things take time. We will closely follow all developments which may take several months because this is a long-term issue. I leave the Australian Minister to clarify his country’s position.

FM Rudd: Thank you very much, Minister. On the question of settlements that you asked directly about, the Australian government’s position is consistent on it. The position of Australia is that new settlements do not contribute but in fact undermine the prospects of a lasting peace settlement in the Middle East. That continues to be our position today. And when I go to Israel in the days ahead I’ll be reflecting that position as well. Secondly, I would say that our friends in Israel- and Australia is a long standing friend of Israel and they have also their legitimate security concerns when it comes to the Middle East peace process and we are very mindful of those concerns as well. Thirdly as the Minister’s just indicated American emissaries will come to the region very soon. Their briefings will be important in

Minister’s Office: 02 6277 7500 or 0466 745 615 Department: 02 6261 1555


terms of where the United States wishes to take the process. I simply though reiterate what I said in my earlier remarks. It is not, simply, the right time for business as usual, politics as usual on the question of Israel and Palestine. We must begin to move towards a settlement which has a conclusion. And one which properly underpins and guarantees the legitimate security interests and other interests of the Israeli state and of a future Palestinian state.

Question: There are reports that some Eritreans were held captive in Sinai. What is your comment on this and why has this issue been brought up now?

FM Aboulgheit: There are allegations that hundreds of Eritreans are held captive in areas of Sinai by some Bedouins and that some of them are imprisoned or held hostage. This raises the question of who stands behind these allegations. The Egyptian Ministry of Interior, which is always in touch with the MFA, has no information on this and has denied these allegations. We know that some Eritreans tried to go to Italy, were incarcerated and taken back to Libya from where they came. Some elements sneaked into Egyptian lands. That is all that the Ministry of Interior has told us. At least 83 Eritreans were stopped from crossing the Suez Canal. There are attempts to infiltrate Sinai to reach Israel. The Egyptian government stands against these attempts if they are illegal. Egypt tries to control the situation but this phenomenon must not be blown out of proportion. We are astonished that European politicians talk about this and even religious circles in Europe discuss this. If they have certain information, let them prove their allegations by giving us names and places. But unsubstantiated claims are unacceptable whether from foreign or religious circles.

Question: One of the issues often raised in terms of security here is Gaza and the issue of weapons coming into Gaza. That’s obviously an issue for the region, particularly for Israel. What’s your assessment of weapons into Gaza and do you see Iran as having a role in that? Are weapons still being moved into Israel via the Gaza border and by who?

FM Aboulgheit: Let me tell you that the issue of weapons and armaments coming into Gaza is an Israeli pretext to stop whatever attempts for a settlement. That is issue number one. Hamas does not negotiate with the Israelis. It is the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank which negotiates with Israel. There we do not see this so-called threat of weapons infiltrating into the West Bank. So that is the first point. Second point is weapons reaching Gaza. There are so many ways of weapons reaching Gaza primarily from two sources: from the sea and also from within Israel itself. Palestinians acquire many of the weapons and those who have been watching Palestinians in Gaza would have noticed that they are not only carrying the AK47s, they are carrying also the M16 rifle and the M16 rifle is or was a rifle primarily used by the Israeli army. So weapons and explosives are coming through the sea. There might have been attempts and there might be attempts to infiltrate Egyptian borders from the south. Who is sending? I do not really have a clue but the Egyptian security forces are on top of the situation and are trying to foresee that Sinai is not used for storing weapons for any party.

Minister’s Office: 02 6277 7500 or 0466 745 615 Department: 02 6261 1555


Question: Concerning WikiLeaks, has increased the mistrust in American diplomacy? The second question is will there be indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in the coming future?

FM Aboulgheit: Talk about your friends the Americans.

FM Rudd: But the Americans are friends of the Egyptians too.

FM Aboulgheit: I’m not denying it. But you have noticed that the cables that are coming out of Cairo or about Egypt from abroad all of them are indicating that what we say in the meetings, we say publicly. That is the strength of the Egyptian position.

FM Rudd: All I would say to the question that has been raised is that there are many aspects to this. One just goes to the core of your question about the United States is the absolute importance of the United States properly protecting its diplomatic communications in the future. But I’d also say having spoken to Foreign Ministers around the region and around the world in recent weeks at various conferences and meetings in Asia in the Middle East and elsewhere is that the resolve of all of us is simply to get on with the business, the real practical business of diplomacy now. In our region that is about the Korean peninsula right now. Here in this region, it is dealing with the immediate challenges of the peace process and the continuing challenges of Iran.

FM Aboulgheit: Concerning WikiLeaks, I want to stress that these leaks are the tip of the iceberg and so it is too early to comment on them. They may not deserve any comment. We wait, follow and read. Not everything we read is necessarily true. It may be distorted or falsified. Thus, we hold on to our public position and express our opinion on all issues.

Thank you, very much.