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Transcript of doorstop: 27 June 2007: bilateral talks; Lebanon; position in relation to dealing with Hamas and the current administration in Gaza.



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 27 June, 2007

TITLE: Doorstop following Mr Downer’s meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad - Bilateral talks, Lebanon, position in relation to dealing with Hamas and the current administration in Gaza.

MR DOWNER: I would like to express Australia's support for the President and his emergency government. Australia is immediately providing some financial support for the Temporary International Mechanism of four million dollars. And we are providing some humanitarian support of three million dollars to the people in Gaza who are suffering.

Australia is a long way away but we have long and historic ties with the Palestinian people and with the Middle East more broadly. We very much hope that the opportunity can be now used, with the dramatic changes that have taken place recently, for the peace process to gain some fresh momentum. I have appreciated the very constructive discussions I have had with the Prime Minister today. Thank you

JOURNALIST: Can you just give us an update, first of all, on the situation of the Australians in Lebanon. Do you know any more?

MR DOWNER: There is no fresh information on that today. We are still trying to get access to the four that we know have been detained and that has still not been granted to the embassy. They are still working on that.

JOURNALIST: Do we know if any have been killed?

MR DOWNER: We think it is now unlikely that any Australian has been killed. It seems unlikely. We can't rule it out yet but it seems unlikely.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you in relation to your dealings with the Palestinian Administration. You seem to have gone down the track of backing the Emergency Government.

MR DOWNER: Sure.

JOURNALIST: And what is the current position in terms of dealing with Hamas and the current administration in Gaza?

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MR DOWNER: Obviously what has happened in Gaza is a disaster. But having said that, it equally has provided an opportunity here in the West Bank. The President himself is ultimately responsible for negotiations in relation to the future status of the Palestinian Territories and creation of an independent Palestine, and he in these circumstances, constitutionally, can establish an emergency government. He has set up a good government, a technocratic government.

I think Prime Minister Fayyad is a man of very real ability known to a lot of Australians. Here is an opportunity - and it is not gong to be a long lasting one - a short opportunity to take the peace process forward quite substantially. From my discussions with Prime Minister Olmert and others in Israel, I think they feel that there may be an opportunity here. And I think among the Palestinians there is certainly that sense, after years of despair and hopelessness as Prime Minister Fayyad put it to me, that there is a chance.

What can Australia do about it? We are not going to cut across what the Quartet is doing but we can provide some support. And that is why we have provided four million dollars of support to the Palestinian government, to the Palestinian Authority, through the Temporary International Mechanism, and also provided three million dollars in additional support, humanitarian support, through the UN for people in Gaza.

JOURNALIST: There was a statement put out by some Ambassadors in Canberra (inaudible) I don't know if you saw it.

MR DOWNER: I've seen the newspaper report but I haven't seen the statement.

JOURNALIST: How do you think Australia is viewed in terms of whether it is seen as partisan in this (inaudible).

MR DOWNER: We are not talking about parties. I mean people talk about partisanship, I acknowledge, but we are not talking about parties so it has nothing to do with partisanship. We are talking about what we think is right.

I have to be honest with you, I have enormous problems with extremists. I have enormous problems with people who don't support the path of tolerance, moderation and inclusiveness. So as long as Hamas are the face of the Palestinian Authority it seems to me that you are never going to get an agreement with Israel - because for Israelis it is an existential issue. For as long as the Palestinians are led by people like President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad and others, moderates, then it seems to me there is hope - there is a chance of being able to negotiate a two state solution. Hamas doesn't even support a two state solution. So how do you negotiate a two state solution with someone who doesn't support it? But with this government now, that the Palestinians have, it seems to me a real chance. I think the Israelis feel that. It's fraught with difficulty. I have no illusions about this - I know a lot about the issue. It is fraught with difficulty, but it is an opportunity right now to take the process forward.

I'm glad I've come here and glad I've been able to put that case. What some Ambassador, the Syrian Ambassador I think it is, says in Canberra. Well, my only response to that is that I would like Syria to play a truly constructive role in constraining extremism. For Syria to

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constrain the activities of Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and in Lebanon more generally, and for Syria to exercise constraint over the activities of Hamas. That will help.

JOURNALIST: Did you put to Olmert today any expectations that Australia has of the Israeli government?

MR DOWNER: I don't quite put it that way, but what I've been saying to you is what we talked about. The opportunities to take the peace process forward, and I obviously argue that there is an opportunity now, and both sides need to seize that opportunity. I think Prime Minister Olmert understands that only too well. He's just been down to Sharm el-Sheikh, for the quadripartite meeting and I think, according to him and also to the Palestinian Prime Minister, that the meeting went pretty well.

You know so many times people have been optimistic and their hopes dashed but I think this is one of those periods where we are going through a slightly higher optimism. I think that will be justified.

JOURNALIST: You are not going to Lebanon are you?

MR DOWNER: No I'm not.

JOURNALIST: How do you feel about Australians you know if they were involved in this sort of activity? I mean how do you feel about that?

MR DOWNER: They are innocent until proven guilty. We don't even know what charges are going to be brought against them yet. But they have been detained in an environment where there was apparently a fire-fight between the Lebanese army and extremists. That is the circumstance in which they have been detained. What they were doing and whether they are extremists - that is of course another matter.

I think that Australians should support the general tone and tenor of our nation, which is moderation. Australia is a moderate country and we have no problem with extremism and terrorism - why? Because terrorism is cruelty and murder and extremism is intolerance. How will the middle east ever solve its problems if there is intolerance?

JOURNALIST: Were any of these Australians who have been named over there known to Authorities in Australia?

MR DOWNER: That's one for the Attorney-General.

JOURNALIST: Ok.

[Ends]