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Australian Government expels top Syrian diplomat
May 29, 2012
1:45 pm
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Broadcast: 29/05/2012

Foreign Minister Bob Carr joins us to explain why the Australian Government has reacted to news of a massacre of more than 100 people in Syria by expelling that country's most senior diplomat here.


CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: That story shortly, but first: the massacre of more than 100 people in the Syrian village of Houla has shocked the world. Among the dead are 49 children and 34 women; hundreds more were injured. This afternoon the Australian Government reacted, expelling two Syrian dip mats for what it described as a "hideous and brutal crime". Foreign Minister Bob Carr joins me now. Just to be clear on this: these two diplomats were the most senior Syrian officials in Australia?

BOB CARR, FOREIGN MINISTER: Yeah, no ambassador, but a chargé and another official at the embassy.

CHRIS UHLMANN: So is the embassy being shut down or junior staff remain?

BOB CARR: Junior staff will remain. What we've done is likely to be followed by identical action from our friends; I can't make announcements for them, but I think overnight, Australian time, other nations will do what we've done.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Are you expecting that... this is not going to be a suspension; they can't come back until you say they can come back?

BOB CARR: Yes, that's right.

CHRIS UHLMANN: So, why did it take this long to act against Syria? This has been going on for quite some time now - about 10,000 people have died?

BOB CARR: The Kofi Annan peace plan was resolved in April - Kofi Annan acting on behalf of the Arab League and the United Nations, so he's a joint special envoy. He recommended, and it was adopted, a plan that emphasised a cessation of hostilities and political engagement; they're the best ways of summing up the six points. Since then, it's become clear that the Assad government will not cease hostilities, it will not give effect or a ceasefire. I think this terrible massacre has confirmed that.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Don't you think it just shows the world is impotent when it comes to Syria; that really no action is going to happen as long as the UN Security Council can't move because two of its members aren't going to?

BOB CARR: Well, one of the principles that underpins the Security Council, of course, is the veto power: the United Nations was set up at the San Francisco conference in 1945 with that concession to the great post-war powers who comprised the five permanent members on the body; and we face here the difficulties of giving effect to the noble principle of the responsibility to protect that has taken form in recent years, in the wake of Rwanda and the Balkans. It's a good principle, and it is proving very difficult to apply in circumstances where you've got resistance from a sovereign government with strong military clout.

CHRIS UHLMANN: What do you say to Russia and China - who simply say they express their regret, they're disturbed by these sorts of things, but will not act?

BOB CARR: I've spoken to William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary who reminded me that Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia has spoken recently about "increasing pressure on all". If that's an indication that Russia is prepared to use its considerable influence with Damascus, then that is a very good thing.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you think it will, though? Do you think anything will come of that?

BOB CARR: Well it could be. We live in hope, but getting Damascus to move towards a ceasefire and to engage in political dialogue with its opposition is the one game plan we've got here. The difficulties about military intervention are so considerable, and applying sanctions is worthwhile but only as a step after enforcing the Kofi Annan six point plan.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Now, Kofi Annan is meeting with Syrian president Bashar al Assad in Damascus overnight. Are you expecting anything of all to come of that?

BOB CARR: Too difficult to say. We hope the regime will get the message that the world has run out of patience. It's very difficult taking into account, however, the ethnic and religious composition of the government, that it's prepared to relinquish authority. The regime would be afraid that if it winds down the military presence, takes the tanks and the cannon out of built-up areas, as Kofi Annan has been arguing, it will be overcome by popular opposition - that is, the resistance.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Bob Carr, thank you.

BOB CARR: Thank you, Chris.

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