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Minister discusses terrorist attack in Mumbai; Thailand; Afghanistan; and Hillary Clinton.

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TOPICS: Mumbai, Thailand, Afghanistan, Hillary Clinton.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Tensions between India and Pakistan are rising after terrorists killed 172 people, including two Australians in recent days in attacks on the city of Mumbai. Joining me in the studio is the Acting Foreign Minister, Simon Crean. Minister, thank you for

your time.

SIMON CREAN: A pleasure, Ashleigh.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: I understand that today, we finally have official confirmation that the Australian, Douglas Markell, was killed in the attacks along with Brett Taylor.

SIMON CREAN: Yes, unfortunately, and our condolences to his family and friends. These are tragic circumstances, obviously, for them. The other 84 Australians that were known to us in the Mumbai area that was under attack have all been accounted for, so that is good news, but tinged with this great sadness.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: The only surviving terrorist has told authorities he was part of a Pakistani militant group. Does the Government have any more information about what sort of motivation there could be behind the attack?

SIMON CREAN: No, we don't, and we're very pleased that the Indian Government is moving quickly to try and establish this. The Prime Minister of India has called all party talks to try and establish the facts and the way forward.

We're also very pleased with the response from Pakistan, that not only have they condemned the attack, but they have offered all facility and cooperation to the Indians - the Indian Government, in identifying the perpetrators and, obviously, it is in our interest, that not only


are they brought to justice, but collectively, we learn from this and learn how effectively to stop these sorts of things happening again.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: There are widespread concerns though in India that Pakistan is linked to these attacks. What are the risks for security in that region, as those tensions escalate between the two countries?

SIMON CREAN: Well, these are always the problems, of course, that we know the tensions across the border, we know that there have been attempts to mend those tensions, and we have welcomed those. These sorts of things can only either halt or set back. We hope we don't - it doesn't set them back, but it is very difficult circumstances.

Already, we're seeing the fallout in India. The Minister for Home Affairs has resigned. The head of the intelligence service has offered his resignation and people in India are very angry from what we've seen on your news clips, et cetera, very angry with the failure to warn.

Now, this is what will inevitably happen in the aftermath of the siege ending. What we have to do is to get facts to establish a much better line of communication and cooperation to understand that terrorism, whilst it's targeted, as this one has been targeted, in India, it is not confined to there. It's a global threat, it needs a global response, and there needs to be, not just heightened alert, but a determination to work more effectively, closely to ensure that these sorts of things don't threaten ordinary citizens. Don't threaten democracies, don't threaten fundamental values that we take for granted.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Just back to this relationship though between Pakistan and India, there are reports today that Pakistan is looking at diverting troops from the Afghanistan border and putting them towards the Indian border. Is that something the Australian Government, in particular, would be concerned about, would condemn even?

SIMON CREAN: No, I think - well, I think, if those reports are correct, then we would be concerned. We would need to monitor the circumstances and see the justification that is being used. But, obviously, with these sorts of things, what we wouldn't want to see is escalation coming off the incident; rather, a resolve to bring to justice and determine to work together to stop it happening again.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Well, turning to Thailand, there in Bangkok, of course, there are hundreds of stranded Australians hoping they can get this flight out of Phuket this evening. The airport siege has been going on for almost a week now. Why has it taken so long to try and get these people out?


SIMON CREAN: Well, that's a good question, and we've been very frustrated with the stalemate, the inability to get effective information as to when it's going to end, and it was that that led us over the weekend to make approaches to Qantas. And to their credit, they've responded extremely well. An Airbus going into Phuket. The Australian Embassy making provisions for those that can get on the plane to be taken to the place.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Because, I gather, that is some 14 hours or so...

SIMON CREAN: Yes, a 14...

ASHLEIGH GILLON: ....on a bus. Is that the best option that...

SIMON CREAN: It is the best option, as we understand it. I mean, we're not the people who have the expertise in the logistics of these things. This was the decision of Qantas as a response to our call, and, obviously, we have to undertake the land logistics.

There are other international facilities in Thailand, in Chiang Mai, and in Utapao, the military air base. But precisely what aircraft are able to land there we need to make further investigations.

But to their credit, the Australian Ambassador and his mission in Bangkok have been very active on the ground in engaging with the stranded Australians, visiting the hotels. Even in frustration, our ambassador going out to the airport to try and demand, if you like, on the spot, what's going on here [laughs], what are you doing. So I think that that's a demonstration of how frustrated they've become and have conveyed back to us.

But look, the capacity of the aircraft is around 300. We understand there is something like 400 Australians stranded there. So let's hope that their angst is addressed in a very short space of time.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Well, at the moment, there doesn't seem to really be any end in sight in terms of this airport siege. If you just put your Trade Minister cap on for a minute, this must be extraordinarily damaging...


ASHLEIGH GILLON: ... for the country.

SIMON CREAN: Well, it's very damaging for the country. They rely very heavily on the tourism market. But also, in - just in terms of investment into countries like that, people will always be reluctant, particularly in the current economic climate, to invest in countries that don't have stable political structures.


Now, what we have in Thailand is a government that was democratically elected.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: And that was only last year.

SIMON CREAN: Only last year, and by a convincing majority. The protesters are not accepting that result. We would urge them to accept that result. But that's the stand-off that we've got in the country.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Just quickly, an Australian soldier and another Defence Force worker are in a serious condition today after being injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. It happened in about the same area where Lieutenant Michael Fussell was killed last week. Isn't the fighting season meant to be wrapping up for this year? Do you have any more information about this latest incident?

SIMON CREAN: Well, I think it just - it highlights, yet again, how dangerous the activities that our servicemen are involved in, and the risk that they're constantly facing. Fortunately, the injuries, as we understand them, are not life-threatening, but it's a constant reminder of the problems that they face.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Just finally, on a lighter note, Barack Obama is set to formally nominate his ex-rival, Hillary Clinton, as the Secretary of State today. Can you see her forming the same sort of close relationships we saw Condoleezza Rice form with Alexander Downer and now the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith?

SIMON CREAN: I think she's an incredible woman, and I think a great choice. You only have to look at the way in which she fought with the determination she did during the primary campaign. She's a person of great resolve and great determination. I think she'll be a terrific addition to his team.

But I think it also highlights in Barack Obama's case his desire to heal the problems that have been besetting the US, both on the political front and the economic front. I think it sends a very strong signal that he's about unifying the nation. I think that's good for global responses to a whole range of things. Whether they're the world trade talks, or the climate change or the global financial crisis, we've got - and now the terrorism issue. We've got a huge array of global problems which can only be solved by global solutions. And we need countries, and especially the country the size and importance of the United States, to actively and constructively participate in those global solutions.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Acting Foreign Minister, Simon Crean, thanks for your time.

SIMON CREAN: Thank you, Ashleigh. (ENDS)