A louder voice on the world stage:
An interview with Senator Bob Carr
“Australia Supports a Two-State Solution’’
The Middle East Times talks to the Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr about Syria, the Arab Spring and how Australia sees its relationship with the region.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr visited the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia earlier this year in June, being the first Australian Foreign Minister to visit in at least two decades. During his time there significant and productive discussion were had with various key leaders; President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi; Oman Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs, Yousef bin Alawi bin Abdullah; and Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal. Talks covered a range of bilateral issues such as refugees, economic growth, education and military activity.
An interview with the Senator lends insight of the current state of our nation’s relationship with the Middle East, and the vision our Government has in place to prosper relations for the benefit of all countries.
Mr Carr, given that Australia has now won a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, how do you think Australia will benefit?
I think we have got a role of elevating Australian leadership. I think that is a great advantage of where we are -- it means we have more influence with other countries.
Q: What do you see as a solution for the ongoing problems in the Middle East and what is your vision for the future?
With Syria we support a ceasefire, first and foremost. Second, we support a transition plan which means progress towards a new constitution with all sides able to contribute and, ultimately, an election - an election where the people can choose their government. As for Israel - I have met the Palestinian authority in Romula. I have met the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and told them that Australia supports a two-state solution.
Q: Do you think it’s time for military intervention in Syria?
No. There is no backing in the UN for it and it would increase the danger of the conflict spilling into neighbouring countries. What we urge is a ceasefire and a transition to elected government that protects all minorities. It’s very important to protect the minorities and to see a form of government that represents power sharing.
Q: Will the Australian Government support the arming of Syrian rebels?
No. We believe in humanitarian assistance. We are the third largest contributor of humanitarian aid. We have provided aid for refugee camps, protection of children, feeding and clothing of refugees. We have also urged other countries to provide assistance for Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Q: Mr Carr, do you believe the Arab spring will bring reform to the Middle East?
I have met Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and I believe he will rejuvenate Egypt’s diplomatic role. I believe that is the most important change produced by the Arab spring. I think the Muslim Brotherhood has a responsibility to make decisions on behalf of all Egyptians. In my meeting with President Morsi, I raised the position of the Coptic community and he told me he “will be a president for all Egyptians”.
Q: How do you read the political situation in Lebanon?
The events in Syria are capable of destabilising their country. A lot depends on the resilience of the government. I am optimistic that Lebanon can maintain its independence.
Q: The Australian Government announced recently that they will allow the entry of 1000 Syrian refugees from Lebanon. Are there plans to increase that number?
You would have to talk about that with my colleague, the Minister for Immigration.
Q: How do you describe the relations between Australia and Arab countries, in particular the Gulf States?
Very, very good. There is a high level of Australian business interest in the Gulf states and, of course, they are also sources of investment in Australia.
Q: The joint action plan between the Gulf Co-Operation Council and Australia was approved informally. When will it be approved officially?
I will get you details on the timing and implementation.
Q: There are question that the continual flow of boats to Australia will create a problem. What’s your comment on that?
People should relax. You couldn’t have better citizens than some of the Afghan families I have met.
Q: Does Australia support the establishment of international law by the United Nation to criminalise the disrespect of religions?
We think there are difficulties in how that would be interpreted. If the law said it is illegal to criticise religions then some could take advantage of it. We have to pay attention to how a law like that would work in practice.