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Interview with Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr
Jim Middleton interviews Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr about the war in Syria, Australia's position on the UN Security Council, and Fiji governance.

2013 marks the beginning of Australia's two-year term as a member of the United Nations Security Council.

Australia's tenure begins as the UN struggles to find a useful role in diffusing some of the world's major conflicts; notably, and most ineffectually, in the bloody and protracted civil war in Syria.

In the absence of a negotiated settlement, Australia's Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, has put forward a proposal designed to quarantine medical personnel and hospitals from the fighting.

I spoke to Senator Carr in London.
JIM MIDDLETON: While you've been overseas the situation in Syria has gone from very bad to much worse. President Assad does not appear to be winning the war by any means. On the other hand, there's no sign that his regime is crumbling. This is a long way from being resolved, is it not?

BOB CARR: Yes, it is. We're still a long way from the two things we want. First, a ceasefire, so that the guns of all the militias stop firing. So that people stop being strafed when they're queuing for bread or petrol and so that houses stop collapsing on the innocent civilian inhabitants in inside them.

And seccond, after the ceasefire to get all sides committed to the political transition plan that was agreed on in Geneva mid-year and that would see negotiations to awards a constitution and towards elections that would allow the people of Syria, for the first time, to choose who they want to govern them. Ceasefire, political transition.

In the meantime, we're dealing way humanitarian crisis and I'm continuing to push an Australian plan, now endorsed by Canada, that would urge all sides, would have all sides protecting medical supplies, medical personnel, medical facilities inside the country.

JIM MIDDLETON: There does seem to be some growing support for this proposal of yours which would see medical personnel and medical facilities quarantined, as it were, from the conflict. But what's been the reaction from within the Security Council and in particular, from Russia and China which to date have resolutely rejected any international action to try to end the crisis?

BOB CARR: I've got to say the response has been disappointing. It's almost as if the permanent members of the Security Council are locked into conflict. They're at odds with one another and not prepared to consider a sort of out of left field intruding thought, plan opposed to what they're arguing about, that would see medicine reach a people that is suffering acutely.

I've got to confess I'm very disappointed by the fact that this minimalist proposition hasn't been taken up with enthusiasm by the actors in this drama and by the UN special representative.

We will continue to push it. I'm heartened by the fact that Canadian foreign minister, John Baird, has lent his support to it.

I can see no argument that could be made against a plan that says while this terrible conflict goes on, we will at least not fire on doctors and nurses; we'll not use hospitals as bases, or target them. We'll allow medicines to enter the country and get back on pharmacy shelves and doctor's surgeries so that the people coming in with wounds, struggling to stay alive, can be treated.

JIM MIDDLETON: Australia is now on the Security Council. What do you think Australia can do to reduce the suspicions of both China and Russia about endorsing international intervention anywhere, not just Syria, because they do seem to be deeply worried about the logical implications if there were to be conflict or insurgency in their own backyards.

BOB CARR: I think their concerns about insurgency run pretty ... about an insurgency, supported by western intervention run pretty deep.

And of course most recently, from a Russian perspective that would have been confirmed by how the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)-backed UN mandated intervention in Libya went from a humanitarian invention to one that supported regime change, that is, the removal of Gaddafi.

So that is the Russian charge sheet that's being waved around when they talk about the western support of intervention in the case of Syria.

I think it's got to be said that what we're talking about here is not a military intervention but a UN mandate to get a ceasefire and to get a political transition in place.

Nonetheless, I think it's good advice for the western world to not demonise Russia or attack Russia. That's no way to get a movement, a reconsideration in the Russian position.

I think both Russia and China, probably more especially China, have got to weigh carefully the reputational damage they would struggle with were the Assad government to remain in power inflicting mass atrocities, mass crimes against its own people. And the evidence of that seems to mount day by day: the strafing of the population, the bombing of homes, the destruction of homes, the shelling of whole suburbs.

JIM MIDDLETON: Another subject, I know you're in London, but how worried are you about recent developments in Fiji since the production of the draft constitution, especially the army's insistence it remain the last bastion of law and order in Fiji? That hardly sounds like a recipe for a return to democracy.

BOB CARR: I think Fiji, I think the interim government of Fiji should take the advice of the leadership of Indonesia. President Yudhoyono has made it clear when he has spoken to the military political leadership in Myanmar that the role of the army is in the barracks.

And that's been the Indonesian experience and the Indonesians deserve great credit for making that point when they engage with other parts of the world. The role of the military is in the barracks.

Now I know there are cultural factors that distinguish Fiji and naturally we take them into account. I also say that there are aspects of the draft constitution produced by the Constitutional Commission to which I think objection could reasonably be taken.

JIM MIDDLETON: On the specific role of the military in Fiji, would Australia accept a constitution that gave the military the last word on what is or is not law in Fiji?

BOB CARR: Well again, our basic expectation is an election in 2014. We're not drafting this constitution. I would not see - I would not see a constitution that entrenches the role of the military to dismiss elected governments as being a democratic constitution. And nor I think would the people of Fiji. Nor I think would be the Pacific community.

JIM MIDDLETON: Foreign Minister, thank you very much.

BOB CARR: Jim, thank you.
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