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Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National Breakfast on Syria

Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National Breakfast on Syria

HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations in New York

E&OE

24 February 2014

 

Kelly: Ambassador, welcome to the program.

Quinlan: Good morning, Fran. How are you?

Kelly: I’m very well thank-you, Gary. What will this resolution actually mean for the people of Syria?

Quinlan: Well it will mean something only if it’s implemented of course, and it’s fairly strong, it’s united, it has the support of all members of the Council, which is a good thing of course. But it’s only a first step. It’s only the beginning. If it’s not implemented, frankly it will mean nothing.

The important thing is we’ve laid out some very strong measures against which we can actually measure compliance. We’ve said: lift the sieges; stop starvation as a weapon of war; allow cross-border access for humanitarian convoys – that should give immediate relief if that happens straight away to well over an additional million people; we’ve said stop the aerial bombardments – the barrel bombing; have local ceasefires. And we’ve set ourselves a month to get the first report from the Secretary-General on compliance on this. Then the Council is committed to re-evaluate where we stand, but the resolution we put forward and got adopted on Saturday morning mandates action. We’ve actually said in the resolution, we haven’t said what the action will be, but we’ve said that we will take further steps, and it’s a mandatory resolution, it’s binding on all members states. So it’s only a start, if not implemented goes nowhere, but let’s see what happens in the next 30 days.

Kelly: I want to come back to what it means on the ground, but you say it mandates action – controversially though, the threat of sanctions was dropped from the wording of the resolution. I think it’s fair to say that was the price of Russian and China support for it. So when you say it mandates action, further steps, what does that actually mean if not sanctions? 

Quinlan: Well it may well mean sanctions, but we won’t know for another 30 days until we’ve had the first report on compliance. Then we’ll have a discussion, and look it will be a hard discussion, a robust discussion in the Council, about what further action might be. It’s true that in the original draft that Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg had prepared we included a reference to what’s called Article 41 of the UN Charter which lays out various sanctions – that could be financial, economic sanctions that kind of thing – explicitly excludes military force by the way – that part of the Charter. But look, there was a price to get unified agreement in the Council so we dropped that but the key was we’re going to have that debate. We’re going to have that debate in another 4-5 weeks if there’s non-compliance.

Kelly: So are you expecting compliance, Ambassador, within the 30 days and what signs are there from the Syrian Representative to the UN or the representative of the opposition forces that they are prepared to play ball?

Quinlan: The opposition, on a number of occasions, has written to the Security Council committing to work very strongly with the UN and UN agencies and other humanitarian agencies in delivering assistance. There are indications on the ground that it is happening in some areas, but they also need to step up a great deal more than they have to date on this. The UN system now has a sort of mandate, if you like, from the Security Council to now be a lot tougher and a lot more specific in what they demand of the Syrian government and of the opposition forces. And since this resolution is legally binding on all member countries, all of us now, and particularly those countries which have got special influence or at least some degree of influence with both sides in the conflict now really are obligated to help implement this resolution. So obviously the Russians have been talking to Damascus for quite some time saying, you know you do need to improve humanitarian performance. The Iranians will need to do more in this area. The Arab countries, which are working to provide assistance to the opposition, clearly will be working in this direction. We’re all committed to the fact that the humanitarian crisis, can’t really be held hostage to the delay we’ve got in getting a political solution which frankly is looking dimmer and dimmer in prospect we have to say, and held hostage to thef act we’re getting a worse military situation developing on the ground.

Kelly: But is Syria committed to it? That’s really the one that counts, isn’t it? Has Syria indicated it will abide by this resolution?

Quinlan: The initial comments from the Permanent Representative – the Ambassador -to the UN the other day were that ‘we are doing work on the humanitarian front and we will continue to do that work’. I mean, that’s what you’d expect him to say. We now need to use throughout the UN system itself every effort we can to try to put direct pressure on them. Look, there will be more pressure put on the Syrian regime now. They will presumably make their own calculation about how their interests are served in abiding by this resolution. No-one here is pretending here this is somehow going to be a magic bullet that will turn things around. But let’s see what progress we can get and then we’ll have an argument – frankly it will be an argument I think in the Council – in four, five week’s time when we have the first report on compliance, and then see what has actually happened. Are there roadblocks that the UN system and the Council can do more to unblock, and if we’re not satisfied then what action will we take? I think we’ve reached a stage in this crisis, this is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world, and you’ve seen the statistics for what’s actually happening on the ground in Syria. The whole country has disintegrated. You have a country with a population the size of Australia and half of them – 10 million people are in need or urgent assistance.

Kelly: And it is urgent as you’ve said. There is starvation going on. So I want to ask you as our Ambassador there and co-author of this: in a month’s time how will we know what will constitute non-compliance? Is it if some aid organisations are struggling to get access? Is it waiting to find out the hard way whether these two warring parties will agree to allow them safely through?

Quinlan: There are some basic measures that are set out there. If they’re continuing the sieges without allowing pauses to get access to food and medical deliveries into those besieged areas – that’s both the government and the opposition by the way. Most of the sieges – and this is about a quarter of a million people locked up in besieged twons – most of those are by the government but a couple of actualy by the opposition. That’s an easy measure, whether you can say the sieges have stopped and they’ve allowed medical supplies and food in and people to be evacuated – so let’s measure that. Let’s see what happens with the aerial bombardments and barrel bombings. Barrel bombings are monstrous beyond belief. Half a million extra million people have been made homeless in Aleppo over the last two months through these barrel bombs – these sort of beer barrel type things, full of TNT and shrapnel – which is a scorched earth policy, deliberately targeted at civilians. We can measure that kind of thing. We can see, of course, if there’s been cross-border access, and above all, that was one of the key bottom lines of the three co-authors, Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan. We said we would not put our draft resolution to the Council for a vote unless we had two fundamental provisions. We made a few changes, but number one was cross-border access. We were not prepared to yield on that. And secondly was a provision, a clear statement, that we would take further action if there was non-compliance across borders. It’s absolutely vital. An extra million people in the next few weeks can get food and medicine out of that.

Kelly: Ok Ambassador and just finally, we only have a minute to the news but on another issue, the US is sponsoring a resolution criticising Sri Lanka’s human rights record which would reportedly call for an international investigation into alleged war crimes in the dying days of the Sri Lankan civil war. In the past, Australia has supported American resolutions on Sri Lanka. Will we support this one?

Quinlan: I can’t give you an answer on that for two reasons. Number one, because the Government hasn’t seen the text of the resolution to make a judgement about, and that’s not being cute, that’s just the situation as I understand it. Secondly, human rights issues are actually handled in Geneva and this will be discussed of course at the Human Rights Council in March. We don’t handle it in New York but obviously I follow it closely and the Government has made clear we will make a decision on this when we have a resolution to look at. I really can’t say any more at this stage, because I’m not directly responsible. I don’t want to mislead you.

Kelly: Alright Ambassador Gary Quinlan thank you so much for joining us on Breakfast.

Quinlan: Thanks Fran. Anytime.

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