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Transcript of interview with Ann Sanders: Seven Morning News: 3 March 2009: Afghanistan.

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DATE: 3 March 2009

TITLE: Interview with Ann Sanders, Seven Morning News

SUBJECTS: Afghanistan

ANN SANDERS: The Australian Government is today announcing a $5 million package to help clear land mines in Afghanistan.

To discuss the project, I'm joined this morning by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith.

Good morning to you minister.

STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning Ann.

ANN SANDERS: Now Australia has already given $12.5 million dollars since 2007, to this UN program. How much more time and money is needed?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think decades rather than years. The program, which is a UN sponsored program, has been going for 20 years. Afghanistan, of course, as is the case with every problem in Afghanistan, is longstanding and difficult and complex. But we're still clearing mines that were there from the Russian invasion, the Russian conflict some 20 years ago.

But what we want to do in Afghanistan is not just a military contribution, but also to assist the civilians, through humanitarian and civilian capacity building contributions. So that's one of the reasons we strongly support this UN program to clear the land mines.

ANN SANDERS: All right. So the Australian troops serving in Oruzgan are they directly involved in mine clearance?

STEPHEN SMITH: No. Our troops in Oruzgan Province are involved in two things. Firstly, in military enforcement action against the terrorists, and secondly, reconstruction and rebuilding programs.

But the mine clearance, which we support, is done by experts, it's a United Nations program. So it's supervised by the UN.


ANN SANDERS: Now Australia will attend the upcoming NATO Summit. Our Prime Minister is meeting with President Obama this month. What pressure will there be for Australia to send more troops to Afghanistan?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well we know the United States is doing two things. It's already announced a further 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. More importantly, they're doing a comprehensive overall military, political, civilian reconstruction strategic review, chaired by Mr Riedel. It's known as the Riedel Review and international communities are having input into that. And we won't be surprised if we receive a request. We haven't received a formal request yet. But if we do, we'll consider that on its merits.

ANN SANDERS: All right. So if you are asked, what will you say?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well we'll have a look at the request, if and when we receive it. But one thing we have made clear is that the solution to Afghanistan is not just a military solution, it's also a nation building and reconstruction and civilian capacity building task as well. And I've made it clear that Australia is ready, willing and able to enhance and increase its civilian capacity building and its reconstruction efforts. That's a very important part of the solution to Afghanistan as well.

ANN SANDERS: Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith, thank you very much for your time this morning.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much Ann.