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Transcript of doorstop: United Nations, New York: 22 September 2008

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DATE: 22 September 2008

TITLE: Media Doorstop - United Nations, New York

SMITH: This morning I attended the Secretary-General’s High Level meeting on Africa for African development and I will be attending a round table later this afternoon. I also conducted a series of bilateral meetings.

So far as Africa is concerned, it is quite clear that Australia needs to broaden and deepen its relationship with Africa. This is very much in Australia’s national interests, not just from a humanitarian point of view, but also from an economic development point of view. The people-to-people contact with Africa and the commercial exchanges with Africa have, in my view, gotten ahead of the Government to-Government relationships.

So its very important for Australia to broaden and deepend its partnership with Africa and I’ve made that point clear to African counterparts, Foreign Ministerial counterparts with whom I’ve had bilateral meetings today, which include Sierra Leone, Morocco and late this afternoon I’ll be having a bilateral with the Cameroons.

One of the bilaterals I had today was with George Yeo, the Foreign Minister from Singapore, who made the point to me that the P4 trading arrangement of the economic partnership between Singapore, Brunei, Chile and New Zealand, is contemplating an expansion of its membership. I made the point to him that Australia would consider joining an expanded P4 very favourably.

There are a range of other bilaterals I had. I am hoping to detail those in response to your questions, if you’re interested, and answer your questions on those and other matters.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) represent a new offensive in the Security Council bid?

SMITH: Well, there are two separate issues here. You will, of course, be aware that I’ve announced today an additional $10 million in humanitarian assistance for Ethiopia. $5 million to the World Food Program, $4 million to UNICEF and $1 million to Australian NGOs who are operating in Ethiopia. That reflects our humanitarian and development assistance to Africa.

But there are two separate points. Obviously one of the things that I have been raising in passing with my colleagues is our bid for the UNSC, the United Nations Security Council, for the 2013-14 term. But I think that our relationship with Africa is much broader and deeper than that. I think its very improtant for Australia’s foreign policy to up its ratio so far as Africa is concerned. I think

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that’s in our national interests. It’s the same point that President Sarkozy made when he made his remarks to the General Assembly, that it’s in Europe’s national interests for Africa to develop, for Africa’s institutions to become fully developed, and for Africa’s economy to reach its full potential. That’s very much in Australia’s interests as well.

I think, frankly, that its this sort of engagement that is necessary in advance of contemplating whether African nations are voting for us or not in the Security Council election in four years hence. That’s a long-haul race; we’re very pleased with the initial response that we had, but we’ve got to transfer that good initial response into votes in four years’ time.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) how many African votes”

SMITH: Well, there are 50 odd African nations …

JOURNALIST: And how are we doing …?

SMITH: I’m not proposing, as I’ve said before, to give a running commentary or the details of what other nations have said to us. It’s a matter for them to indicate publicly if they so desire, but there’s four years to go .

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) discussions about increasing the number of Australian Embassies within Africa?

SMITH: No, I didn’t have that discussion with my colleagues.

JOURNALIST: Mr Smith, there’s a lot of focus on Iran at this meeting. Is Australia still considering personally prosecuting Mr Ahmadinejad, or have you abandoned the idea?

SMITH: Well, so far as Iran is concerned generally, in the course of the bilaterals Iran came up in passing, and I repeated Australia’s position, which is we support very strongly the United Nations Security Council’s sanctions on Iran so far as its nuclear activity is concerned. As you would have seen in the Parliament in the last week or so, we indicated we were very seriously concerned about the latest IAEA report on Iran, so we continue to be very concerned about that. So far as President Ahmadinejad is concerned and the International Criminal Court of Justice is concerned, as I’ve indicated before that matter remains under legal and other advice and we continue to consider that.

JOURNALIST: About Georgian Foreign Minister, you just met her. Can you give me details of what you had to talk about?

SMITH: Well, I had a bilateral meeting with the Georgian Foreign Minister. I repeated to her the policy position so far as Australia is concerned, which is we respect Georgia’s territorial sovereignty and integrity over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.. The Foreign Minister was very grateful for the position which Australia had adopted publicly and I indicated that our position continued to be the need for Russia to abide by the ceasefire brokered by President Sarkhozy, as President of the European Union, and we continue to monitor developments very closely in that and continue to render the support that we had been giving Georgia in recent days and weeks. So our position remains unchanged; we continue to follow that position closely and continue to urge Russia to withdraw to the positions before the 6th and 7th August inconsistent with the ceasefire agreement brokered by President Sarkhozy.

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JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

SMITH: Well, firstly, I wish her well. Obviously I know Helen. I’ve had some dealings with her and it’s an important position and it’s a credit to anyone who is accorded that honour by his or her political party. So I wish her well.

JOURNALIST: Would you hope for bipartisanship?

SMITH: Well, I was just about to make the point. Of course in my area there are a range, from time to time, of national interest and national security interests where consultation and briefing of the Opposition is not just important but necessary. Can I make this point, that on a number of occasions I had to do that with Andrew Robb and on every occasion he conducted himself in an entirely professional and national interest manner and I greatly appreciated that, and I commend him for it, and I expect exactly the same of Helen Coonan.

JOURNALIST: The leadership issue in Japan appears to have been (inaudible)

SMITH: Well, first we congratulate the new Prime Minister, Prime Minsiter Aso on his effective appointment as Prime Minister of Japan. We have an important economic, security and strategic partnership with Japan, which is long-standing and enduring. Mr Aso has been to Australia on a number of occasions; he knows Australia well; he’s well-known to Australia and Australian officials, so we look forward to working and dealing closely with him. He’s met the Prime Minister and my understanding is that arrangements are now being made for the two Prime Ministers to meet. Prime Minister Aso, I understand, is making or using his best endeavours to come to New York for part of the General Assembly, so arrangements are in hand to see whether it’s possible for the two Prime Minsiters to meet.

JOURNALIST: It’s been the best part of the year since you talked about taking Ahmadinejad to the ICJ. When can we expect a decision on this, I mean how much longer does it have to take?

SMITH: Well, we are continuing to have that matter under legal and other advice. It’s a very serious matter. We’ve giving it serious consideration, and we’ll make an announcement when that consideration has completed.

JOURNALIST: I was going to ask you more about your meeting with George Yeo. Did you discuss the global financial crisis and is there any ?? initiative pending?

SMITH: No, the meeting I had with George was before the commencement of the High Level Africa discussion this morning in the General Assembly. The conversation was restricted to two things; firstly, a joint desire for me to visit Singapore in the first half of next year for a formal bilateral with Foreign Minister Yeo. I invited him to come to Australia and so we’re planning on a joint exchange, joint visits, in the first half of next year. The second part of the conversation was as I indicated earlier, which was a discussion about the P4 bloc of trading arrangement between Singapore, Chile, New Zealand and Brunei, and an indication that the P4 is giving consideration to an expansion of its membership. And I indicated that Australia would give serious consideration to joining such an expanded trading arrangement.

JOURNALIST: Mr Smith, what can Prime Minister Rudd bring to this visit with the negotiations that are going on here in New York that you as Foreign Minister cannot bring?

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SMITH: Well, this is what is generally known as Leaders Week. It’s not just Foreign Ministers who turn up to the opening of the debate at the General Assembly. It’s also Heads of Government and Heads of State. That’s why you’ll find over 100 Prime Ministers and Presidents here. It’s a very important part of the United Nations. Indeed it’s the pre-eminent meeting week of the United Nations. So he’ll be hoping not just for bilateral conversations with his counterparts and Presidents, Heads of Government, Heads of State, but also dealing with the current issues, which will include obviously climate change, food security and international financial regulation.

JOURNALIST: I was going to ask the same question.

SMITH: And you will get the same answer.

JOURNALIST: Surely you could …

SMITH : Well, if this was just a meeting with Foreign Ministers, it wouldn’t be described as the Leaders Week. It’s called the Leaders Week because Prime Ministers, Presidents, Heads of Government, Heads of State traditionally come from this week to have conversations about the important global issues. As a rule of thumb there’s about 190 members of the United Nations, and I’m told there’s anywhere between 100-120 leaders here.

JOURNALIST: But surely it’s time for leadership back home?

SMITH: Well, what the Prime Minister is doing here is in our national interest. He’s made the point. There are two great issues of national signficance to Australia and Australia’s future that he will be dealing with when he’s here. One is the immediate short-term financial institutions and financial regulatory crisis, and the second is the adverse consequences of climate change.

JOURNALIST: Mr Smith, Mr Rudd’s meeting about 15 bilaterals and you have another similar amount of course. Are you two, have you got a strategy to cover as many bases as you can and canvass as many UN votes as you can?

SMITH: It’s not so much canvassing votes, as it’s taking the opportunity of meeting as many of our colleagues as we can. I’m trying to have as many bilateral meetings as I can, as many pull-asides and as many conversations in the corridor. Pursuing that is unambiguously in our national interest. That’s what the Prime Minister is doing, that’s what I am doing.