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Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly: ABC RN: 14 February 2018: Kuwait

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Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC RN

Transcript, E&OE


14 February 2018

FRAN KELLY: An international conference on the future of Iraq has concluded that the terror group ISIS still poses a real danger to the region and the rest of the world. Foreign Ministers from Coalition countries including Australia have agreed that while ISIS has lost its territorial hold in Iraq, its full and enduring defeat will only occur when it no longer has safe havens of which to operate. Our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been attending the talks. She’s also been at a separate meeting in Kuwait on the reconstruction of Iraq. That reconstruction as we’ve been discussing earlier comes with a price tag of more than US$80 billion. I spoke with Julie Bishop earlier this morning from Kuwait.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIL in December, but the militants still control some territory across the border in Syria. Has this meeting of Coalition countries come to the conclusion that the Islamic State will never really be vanquished?

JULIE BISHOP: These meetings come at a very important juncture. ISIS has lost its so-called caliphate in territory it had taken from the Iraqi government and that’s quite an extraordinary achievement by the Iraqi security forces and local partners in Syria, but ISIS does remain a threat. It can morph into an insurgency, as some foreign terrorist fighters are dispersing and of course we are concerned that there could be foreign terrorist fighters returning to our region. We’ve seen that in Marawi, in southern Philippines, and so we’re monitoring and tracking those foreign terrorist fighters. But of course ISIS remains a threat and an important part of ensuring ISIL’s durable defeat is stabilising and rebuilding Iraq, and that’s part of the agenda here as well.

FRAN KELLY: You’ve spoken of the need to win the peace, otherwise remaining fighters could morph into what you’ve called ISIS 2.0. What does winning the peace look like?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, first there must be reconciliation between the different groups in Iraq, Justice initiatives that promote social cohesion will also be important. Over two-million Iraqis are displaced and we must ensure that they can return home and also ensure that Iraq’s economy recovers. It is a nation that is rich in natural resources but the damaging conflicts over decades now has meant that the economy has been shattered and these meetings are about ensuring that the private sector will engage in Iraq, that there’s stability and certainty and we’ll seek private sector growth in Iraq. So it’s been positive from that point of view. About two thousand private sector representatives turned up for a meeting today in Kuwait so that’s a good sign.


FRAN KELLY: Are they oil companies?

JULIE BISHOP: No, a whole range of companies. Infrastructure companies education, healthcare you name it they were here, and I think it’s a positive sign that the private sector recognises a role in building and rebuilding Iraq’s economy after decades of conflict. While Iraq may well recover and rebuild, the terror threat has not gone away.

FRAN KELLY: And is there any kind of quantifying of how big that threat ISIS still poses in our region and other places where as you say returning fighters might be.

JULIE BISHOP: There is an estimate that about 40,000 fighters were in Iraq at the height of the conflict. I’m aware that we are tracking about 110 Australian foreign terrorist fighters and we think about 220 went to Iraq and Syria but there’s still about 110 who could make their way back to Australia. So we’re focusing on working with partners in the region and sharing intelligence and information to ensure that we can monitor and track those who are likely to return to our region, specifically to Australia.

FRAN KELLY: And when you say we are tracking 110 foreign fighters, where are they?

Are they back in Australia, in the Philippines, where are they?

JULIE BISHOP: No, these are the ones who we believe are still in the Middle East and may well seek to make their way home or the Philippines or elsewhere. It is a challenge but we are working closely with a range of partners to ensure that we can track them. And this is not an issue that only Australia has to grapple with, obviously a number of countries, European countries in particular have large numbers of terrorist fighters, so it’s a global effort to defeat this brutal terrorist organisation and ensure that they don’t have the capacity to carry out attacks elsewhere.

FRAN KELLY: And what does that global effort mean for Coalition countries and troops remaining in Iraq? I think we only have 300 troops deployed at the Taji Base, north of Baghdad that have been training local forces, will they stay in Iraq?

JULIE BISHOP: That’s right, we do have about 300 defence personnel, working with about 110 New Zealand personnel. Between us we’ve trained about 30,000 Iraqi Army and police.

And they’ve obviously been successful because they’ve been part of the retaking of the territory, part of the defeat of ISIS In Iraq, but that training capacity will need to continue.

There are challenges still for the Iraqi security forces. And Australia has made a commitment that we will stay until at least 2019, obviously that is under review, constant review, but we still have a role to play. And there’s more we can do in helping rebuild Iraq because we don’t want Iraq to be a haven for terrorists and we have much to do in supporting their humanitarian effort for these two million people who are still displaced and about eight-million Iraqis who need some sort of humanitarian support.

FRAN KELLY: The price tag of that humanitarian effort in rebuilding Iraq is enormous. It says the reconstruction of Iraq will cost in excess of $US88-billion, as you say more than three-and-a-half million displaced, enormous damage to infrastructure. Countries have

already poured billions into Iraq since the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in


2003, but Iraq makes the pitch that rebuilding is key to restoring the stability of Iraq and the region. Will there be new pledges from Australia on top of the $100-million you announced last year?

JULIE BISHOP: Within that $100 million we will be identifying where specific amounts of funding can be directed. For example the United Nations Development Program has a financing facility to stabilisation, and that has committed more than $US770 million for over 1,600 projects across Iraq. It is working pretty effectively to create the conditions for people to return home. Tomorrow I will be confirming about $18 million of our $100 million will be directed to the United Nations Development Program to support those stabilisation efforts in Iraq.

FRAN KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast our guest is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, she’s in Kuwait. Foreign Minister on North Korea the South Korean government is saying US officials are indicating they’re willing to hold direct negotiations with Pyeongyang about its nuclear weapons program. That’s despite on the face of it anyway, no steps by the North to disarm, are we seeing a shift in Washington’s approach to North Korea?

JULIE BISHOP: I met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today, sorry yesterday to discuss this issue and others and while the US welcomes any lessening of tensions on the Peninsula, as we do, we have seen that through the attendance of the North Koreans at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, the fact remains that North Korea is in direct breach of numerous UN Security Council resolutions with its illegal weapons program and its illegal nuclear program. According to Secretary Tillerson the US are prepared for talks but negotiations is a different matter. I don’t think that’s changed the US position at all. They’re being prepared to talk with North Korea but in the meantime they think that the diplomatic and economic pressure is working. It’s clearly had an impact on North Korea and so Australia remains committed to imposing maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to bring them back to the negotiating table. Now we’ve yet to see any evidence that North Korea is willing to engage in meaningful dialogue and the onus is on North Korea to act in accordance with international laws, to cease its threatening behaviour and cease its nuclear program. But I think the United States has always been prepared to talk to North Korea but actually negotiating is another matter.

FRAN KELLY: So just to be clear, you’re saying that we could see the US publicly entering talks with North Korea, no conditions, no set rules?

JULIE BISHOP: You could see that, but negotiations could certainly have conditions.

FRAN KELLY: Can I ask you back home, bring you back home, and the issues around Barnaby Joyce. Considering the scandals surrounding the National Party leader Barnaby Joyce. Is he the right person to be Acting Prime Minister next week when Malcolm Turnbull is in the US?

JULIE BISHOP: Well Fran from over here it would appear that there’s more than enough commentary on this matter and I don’t intend to add to it from Kuwait but the Prime Minister, I understand, has confirmed that the usual arrangements will apply when he’s


overseas, that in his absence, the Deputy Prime Minister is the acting Prime Minister and I understand that will be the case next week when Prime Minister Turnbull is in the United States.

FRAN KELLY: And do you think that’s appropriate given the scandals surrounding Barnaby Joyce?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I’m not aware of any actual evidence that Barnaby Joyce has misused taxpayer funds, I’m not aware of any plans for him not to be available next week and so I’m not going to weigh into the debate from overseas.

FRAN KELLY: Has the Prime Minister spoken to you about being available to do the job?

JULIE BISHOP: No he hasn’t.

FRAN KELLY: You haven’t offered yourself?

JULIE BISHOP: Fran I’m over in Kuwait, in back to back meetings from early in the morning to late at night and focusing on Australia’s military and humanitarian contribution to Iraq so it’s not a matter that I’m focusing on.

FRAN KELLY: I think at the moment your schedule has you out of the country next week. If it so happened that Barnaby Joyce was not available anymore be the Acting Prime Minister would you be available?

JULIE BISHOP: Well Fran I am returning to Australia from Kuwait. I do have plans to be overseas next week, Parliament is not sitting. If circumstances change then of course I would change plans but that’s not my understanding and indeed the usual procedures

apply. If the Prime Minister is overseas the Deputy Prime Minister is acting Prime Minister, and if neither is in Australia then it goes down the line. I’ve been Acting Prime Minister before in those circumstances.

FRAN KELLY: Malcolm Turnbull has expressed confidence in Barnaby Joyce, can you say the same?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes I can say the same.

FRAN KELLY: Julie Bishop thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

- Ends -

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