Foreign Minister opens Middle East conference

26 June 2014

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has opened an ANU conference on the Middle East, using her speech to express concern about the recent violence in Iraq and Syria, which she said threatens the stability of the region.

Ms Bishop also said the Australian Government was “deeply disappointed” with the seven-year jail term imposed by an Egyptian court on journalist Peter Greste, over his coverage of Egypt’s transition to democracy.

“This sends absolutely the wrong message for Egypt’s transition to democracy,” Ms Bishop said.

Australian fighters involved in violence in Syria and Iraq were also mentioned as a domestic security concern for Australia.

“There are reports of over 100 Australians fighting in the Middle East. This raises the threat of radicalised Australians returning home with terrorist skills and an extremist orientation,” she said.

Ms Bishop said it was important for government and academics to work together to achieve the best foreign policy outcomes for Australia, saying it was “absolutely in Australia’s national interest in a very big way”.

The conference, The Arab World, Iran and the Major Powers: Transitions and Challenges, features leading Middle East experts from around the world.

“The Middle East is in the grip of some serious geostrategic changes,” said Professor Amin Saikal, Director of the ANU Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies.

“This conference is timely to help evaluate some of the developments which have underpinned these changes in the region.”

Former US Under Secretary of State the Hon Thomas Pickering, a former diplomat and UN Ambassador, is one of the distinguished speakers to provide a US perspective on the Middle East.