Nov 19, 2012

Australia - Carr says Obama right to go ASEAN summit despite Israel Gaza conflict

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The Foreign Minister Bob Carr says it was right for the US president to keep his commitment to attend the ASEAN summit despite the escalating conflict between Israel and Gaza.

TONY EASTLEY: Australia's Foreign Minister has defended the US president Barack Obama's decision to travel to Cambodia for the ASEAN summit despite the escalating Gaza-Israel conflict.

Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr says it was right for the US president to keep his commitment to attend the event.

Senator Carr says Australia is urging restraint from both sides.

He spoke to our reporter in Canberra, Samantha Hawley.

BOB CARR: Well the starting point is an absolute unequivocal condemnation of the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and associated terrorist entities. That's the starting point.

And one must recognise that Israel, like any country in a position where rockets are raining down on it, raining down on civilian areas, has a right to defend itself.

But Australia, like Europe, like the United States, is asking that at this stage everything be done on both sides of this argument to protect civilians from further losses and Israeli reaction, while understandable, has got to be proportionate.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Because yesterday you said that Israel should be aware of the risk of feeding extremism by what could be seen as a disproportionate reaction. So you're obviously concerned that their reaction could be over the top?

BOB CARR: Well Europe and the United States have made the same point. Australia makes the point that with the Middle East in some uncertainty, with a complex and serious political situation, there is a lot to be gained by restraint, even while the anger that Israelis feel is very understandable.

Israel has an interest here as well. The prospect of serious casualties, of soldiers being killed, wounded, kidnapped, is very real for them.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: But you do think there is a risk, or that extremism is being fed here because of the reaction from Israel - is that right, is that your view?

BOB CARR: I said potentially. If the reaction by Israelis is disproportionate, if there are serious civilian casualties, then - and this is a calculation the Israelis themselves will make, they're astute enough to make it - the reaction would be very serious given the uncertainty, the complexity, seriousness of the political ebb and flow in the Middle East.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Well Israel is massing its troops at the border, we know that. Would you urge against a ground offensive?

BOB CARR: Well I'm urging Israel to think very carefully about the, first of all, the proportionate response, the proportionality of its response; and second to think about the prospect of a heavy burden being borne by civilians.

But again, I do so from a starting point that unequivocally condemns the rocket attacks made by Hamas and associated terrorist entities on Israel from Gaza.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: President Obama is in Cambodia for ASEAN. Do you think that's the best place for him to be given what we're seeing in the Middle East?

BOB CARR: Well there will always be trouble in the Middle East and if an American president had to respond to that by going nowhere, but sitting in the White House Situation Room, there'd be nothing else achieved in American foreign policy.

Yeah, I don't think the president can be criticised for keeping a commitment that Australia wanted him to keep and that is attending to South East Asia.

TONY EASTLEY: The Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr speaking to Samantha Hawley.

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