TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH KESHA WEST, NEWSLINE
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 4 July 2013
TOPICS: Egypt; Korea; China.
KESHA WEST: Minister, welcome to Newsline.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
KESHA WEST: If I can begin by asking for your reaction to the military intervention in Egypt?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Australia would of course want democratic processes to be restored in Egypt as quickly as possible. Foreign Minister Carr has made that point clear in the course of the day. He and I are of course together in Seoul, but any military intervention is regrettable. It's been a short period of time since the Egyptian President was democratically elected. We want to ensure that restraint is exercised. We're of course very concerned with developments, but we want to see a restoration of democratic processes as quickly as possible, and if that means the setting of an early election date then so be it. We need to see those processes restored.
KESHA WEST: President Obama has expressed some concern about the Army's move. Is it a worry that the military have removed a democratically-elected president?
STEPHEN SMITH: We want to see democratic processes restored. We have seen, effectively, the military indicated that it wanted certain outcomes and it didn't receive those outcomes, and President Morsi would be forced from office. President Morsi has resigned. I suspect he's done that to avoid any confrontation, but what we do need now to see from Egypt are the restoration of democratic processes.
KESHA WEST: Moving onto another topic, the Foreign Minister and yourself have been in Seoul for security talks with the South Koreans. North Korea has been a central part of those discussions. Is there optimism in Seoul that North Korea is shifting its stance away from the threatening rhetoric of the past few months?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there's some optimism that China is taking an enhanced role in seeking to influence North Korea. The DPRK, today with Foreign Minister Carr and I, together with our Republic of Korea counterparts, conducted the first two-plus-two meeting between Foreign and Defence Ministers of the Republic of Korea and Australia. Yes, central to that were our discussions about peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and the Republic of Korea has been subject to very great provocation from North Korea over the years and in the recent period.
They were heartened by President Park's recent visit to Beijing. They were heartened by some changed stance so far as China was concerned, seeking to influence North Korea. I don't know that there's optimism in the Republic about North Korea itself, but there is some optimism that China may well now be seeking to influence North Korea for the better, to restrain from provocative action and, importantly, in the meeting with the Chinese President and the Republic of Korea President we saw for the first time a statement from China about the importance of no nuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula.
KESHA WEST: Pyongyang has reportedly reconnected the hotline with the South. Surely that's a cause for optimism.
STEPHEN SMITH: I think the tongue-in-cheek response from South Korean officials is that if they rang the hotline they're not sure it would be answered. In the face of great provocation the Republic of Korea in recent times has put out essentially feelers to North Korea to see whether a dialogue could be resumed, whether discussions could be resumed. We warmly welcome the efforts that President Park has made in this respect, but today there hasn't been much of or any of a response from North Korea.
KESHA WEST: There's reports that North Korea's nuclear negotiator has been in Russia for talks on launching a new six-party negotiating process. Is South Korea aware of those discussions in Moscow and did you discuss them?
STEPHEN SMITH: They came up in passing. They were mentioned in passing. South Korea's attitude, without seeking to speak for the Republic, is that at some stage it would be appropriate to resume the six-party talks. Australia has always supported the six-party talks, but those six-party talks, in Australia's eyes, have to be resumed without any preconditions being set by North Korea.
In our view, North Korea is in breach of successive United Nations Security Council resolutions about its nuclear program, but we do want to see those continuing efforts, that dialogue being made, whether they're bilateral efforts from the Republic of Korea, whether it's the six-party talks, or indeed whether it is China, the country best placed to seek to influence North Korea - China now using or seeking to use its influence to have North Korea restrain from its provocation of the South but also to desist from its nuclear program.
KESHA WEST: Like China, Russia is once again playing a key role in the nuclear talks. It's also gearing up to participate in the largest naval drills with China. Do you think Russia is looking to cement its influence in the region and displace the US?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, not so much to displace the US. The United States has made it clear that its long-standing engagement in the Asia Pacific or the Indo-Pacific, which has been there since the end of World War II and Australia sees that presence as being a force for peace and stability and prosperity. United States has made it clear that it's not only going to continue its engagement, it will enhance its engagement. That's a good thing.
But Russia has also made it clear that it regards itself as a major power in the region. It's not proposing to desist from its regional activities. We welcome the fact that Russia, together with United States, became members of the expanded East Asia Summit. Now all of the key countries in North Asia and in our region all meeting and able to have conversations about investment, trade and prosperity but also about peace and stability and security.
KESHA WEST: Minister, thank you very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.