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Transcript: Dr Neal Blewett/Marg Peacock

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PEACOCK; Neal, could you give ue, a· acting foreign minister please, your update, what you know of the current situation and in particular I guess of our armed forces there?

BLBWBTTi First of all the raids are continuing against Iraq, there've been a series of waves during the night. In addition of course there has been this quite unprovoked attack on Israel civilian centres, the missiles do not seem to have been aimed at military targets but aimed at civilian targets. so the war has

been widened in that sense by what is clearly a further act of aggression, because Israel have been involved in this war to date. As far as our own forces are concerned, they are with the Midway battle group in the Gulf and I last knew, and I had no

further reports since about ten o'clock this morning, they have not come under attack.

PEACOCKi It just struck me..,.ten o'clock this morning was your last update on it?

BLBWBTT i Well ten o'clock this morning was our last update on Our ships in the Gulf, because of course it then goes into night, or it was already in night by that time, so we won't expect to hear. uunlese anything dramatic happened we would not expect to

hear until the morning reports come in.

PEACOCK; Neal, I'm interested in what some people are saying, for instance thing 3 like civilian targets and Israel not being as part of this war. I mean I really wonder, I think everybody's sort of part of -his war including we who are so far sway. But would it have been better if they were military targets? Do you know what I mean? It's just the little rhetoric of war that I'm

finding a bit hard to differentiate.

BLBWBTT; Well you are having some of these problems Margaret but let me try and make the point. Ae far as we know, to date the allied bombing attacks on Iraq have been overwhelmingly aimed at military and administrative installations. Now let us also say

that of course you can't be that accurate and no doubt civilians have been injured But as far as we can see, the missiles that were aimed at Israel were not aimed at the Israeli military targets of any kind or airbases or rocket bases or nuclear power

stations or anything like that, they seem simply to be aimed at civilian centres, so I think there is a difference between those two situations.

PEACOCK; I just sort of have that awful feeling that a war is a war is a war and I wonder about.....


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BLEWETTj One of the thing· we need to do in war, and this is tremendously important, i· try and make the proper distinction. Let me say make another distinction that you've just made, that we're all involved in w a r . Now we in Australia committed

ourselves to this united Nations action and therefore we are part of the w a r . Israel did not do that, Israel has not had forces, as Australia h a v e , involved in the war to d a t e . So I think those

distinctions have to be made and if we're to talk rationally and sensibly about what is a tragic situation I think it's important we make those di s t i n c t i o n s .

PEACOCK $ Well I guess another distinction could be made that Australia is indead in this war and that therefore we could be a target.

BLBWETTt Y e s , and we've accepted t h a t . As we pointed out we've had to upgrade all of our security provision, we have an anti­

terrorist plan in this country, we've had it there for some years now and of course we've had to review it and upgrade it.

PEACOCKi We were talking to our Canberra correspondent, Julie Flynn, before and she said that there have been a number of threats. I know you'd be keeping a very close watch on all that. What sort of security step-ups have there been?

BLBWETT i Well as you know we don't make comments on either security threats or responses to them. Let me say that all I can say is that we have upgraded our responses and we are confident that we can deal with those terrorist threats and I've got to say that that is always difficult.

PEACOCKt Yes it in always difficult and I don't really want to think of that h a p p e n i n g , except I know when I walk down the street I wonder if I 'm safe. I heard our Prime Minister condemn the attack on I s r a e l . were you surprised, was the Government

surprised that there was such a lull between when hostilities started and the Iraqi response?

BLBWETT« Yes I think there was some s u r prise. I mean Saddam Hussein had made it fairly clear that he would look to sending missiles towards Israel as one of his reponses if war broke out in the Middle East, and there had been some surprise that it came

much later that anticipated. That may reflect the success of the United States on the first day in disrupting communications which may have been one of the factors that explain the fact that these missiles were not sent off until the second night. But that is, must be speculation until we get much more information.


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PEACOCK: With the Israeli attack, it really does take on huge dimensions now, as you would well know, with all the other countries in the Gulf area, and all of them having very different

views of this war as far as their own involvment, and other countries involvement. what about Australia's role now? Are we still going to stick to what we've committed and will that be the case from now on and what is their combat committment now?

BLBWBTTi We're certainly going to stick to it. I wouldn't have thought that anyone would expect otherwise. Indeed since we've now had two acts of aggression against two countries which had not provoked that aggression, one was Kuwait five months ago by

Iraq and now Israel today by Iraq, so that you had two examples of what this leader of Iraq is prepared to do and I think that it will simply solidify the will of the coalition to ensure the expulsion of those Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

PEACOCK: Neal, Foreign Affaire has been urging Australians to leave the Gulf area over a number of weeks and yet there are still thousands of people there including of course in Israel. Does it sort of annoy you that they are still there?

BLEWBTT i Well no, because I think when we talk about Israel, the great bulk of the Australians in Israel are dual passport holders. That is, they are Israeli passport holders as well as Australian. That is, they've got a committment to Australia but

like many people in Australia for instance who are Australians but also hold British passports or passports of other countries, that they're very much committed to being settlers in Australia. So in Israel where the greatest number of people holding Australian passports are, one's got to say that the great bulk of

those are people committed to Israel, even though they retain a right of a second passport or their original passport and their Australian passport.

PEACOCKi Yes, we just talked to 24 year-old Sarah just near TelAviv and she's chosen to be there with her family, I'm thinking perhaps more of the people that mightn't have to be there, like people with contracts, the contracts seem to have

been paramount as opposed to getting them out and their own safety and heeding your advice perhaps. I'm just wondering if foreign affairs could've just been a bit stronger and said get out. I mean to the Telecom people the Telecom authorities sort of pussyfooting around about whether it's a dangerous situation.

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BLBWBTT $ First of all we don't have the power to tell people to get out. I mean these ere private citizens who've got to make their own decisions and 1 think that many of them who've stayed on are in jobs that may be hard to leave. For instance I know of Australian nurses in some of the military hospitals in Saudi Arabia and obviously there was a great need from the Saudi Arabian point of view for them to stay on, many of course may

have made that decision, that working in those hospitals they should stay on. And therefore, in many cases too there was the question of whether people broke their contracts, often quite good financial contracts but with penalties if people broke them.

But they're decisions that individuals have to make, and again, while obviously the tensions and the expansion of conflict now into Israel and there are reports of missiles against Saudi Arabia, though these have not yet been confirmed, then obviously

the area is becoming more dangerous. Me have been, as I say, for a long time saying get out of those most critically dangerous areas, which we listed as Israel, Jordan and the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia, Australians should think very

seriously of moving out but it's ultimately their decision.

PEACOCKt Heal, we've been having speculation on this station all day, about whether the war will go on or it'll be still a short war, I suppose the discussion's been going on for weeks about that indeed. I'm just wondering your position at the moment.

BLBWBTTt I simply have a hope that it will be a short war and I think that is what everyone, whatever their views on the war have been, is that we all hope it will be a short war. But I think it's very difficult to speculate. I don't have the kind of expertise and there are so many factors involved to be able to make those sorts of predictions. I can just simply express a hope that it will toe a short conflict.

PEACOCKi Yes, terrible situation, I still really can't believe that it's all happening and I suppose it's everybody's private nightmare at the moment. Heal, thank you, I appreciate your time as always. Neal Hlewett who's our acting foreign minister and I

have to say one of the few politicians, the only politician now I think of it from the Government at least, who's been quite happy to come on and talk to not me but to you.