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‘A great friend to Australia’: Julie and Boris discuss Syria, Afghanistan

Boris Johnson and Julie Bishop catch up at 10 Downing Street on Thursday. Photo: Australian High Commission Boris Johnson listens as Julie Bishop speaks at 10 Downing Street on Thursday. Photo: Australian High Commission

London: The Taliban’s push into Tarin Kot, the Afghan city where Australian soldiers fought and died, has not weakened Australia’s resolve to stay in the country working for peace, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says.

The situation in Afghanistan was to be a “subject of considerable discussion” between British and Australian foreign and defence ministers at a meeting in London on Friday, she said.

“Both the UK and Australia have been committed to the security and safety and prosperity and nation building in Afghanistan for many years now.

“A number of Australians paid the ultimate price, a number of Australians have been in Afghanistan defending the local people and working with the government to try and establish order in a very troubled part of the world.

“We will continue to remain in Afghanistan, we will continue to commit to building a better place for the Afghan people to live, and the Australia Defence Force will remain.”

Fifteen years after the war began and nearly three years since Australians withdrew from the southern province of Oruzgan, insurgent fighters have pushed into the provincial capital amid heavy fighting.

Forty-one Australian soldiers have died in Afghanistan, most of them in Oruzgan, where Australian forces were stationed at the large Tarin Kot base from 2006 to 2013.

Australia still has about 270 troops in Afghanistan, mostly training Afghan officers in the capital Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar.

The situation in Syria was also to be a major topic of discussion in London on Friday – not only the military situation, but the roles that Britain and Australia could play in political and humanitarian solutions, Ms Bishop said.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson this week backed an opposition plan under which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would stand down within six months, paving the way for free elections.

However Syria’s foreign ministry called the plan an “aggression” against Syria, saying “statements of British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson reveal his complete separation from reality and his lack of realisation that the time of the British colonial mandate will not come back”.

Ms Bishop also revealed there have been promising signs in the push for more flexible visa arrangements for young Australians who want to work in Britain, and vice versa.

She met with British Home Secretary Amber Rudd, responsible for visas, this week.

“We had a very positive and constructive discussion about the opportunity to see more young Australians living and working in London, likewise young Britons coming to Australia under various visas,” she said.

Mr Johnson’s senior role in cabinet was a plus in pushing the negotiations along, she said.

“Last evening Boris Johnson related stories about his time as a young man in Australia and he hoped that those opportunities for young Australians and young Britons will continue.

“I believe that he is a great friend to Australia, he has a particular attachment to our country – he has lived in our country – and that augurs well for a very strong bilateral relationship.

“He is very good company but he also takes this relationship very seriously and I think that it will be to Australia’s benefit that we have someone of the calibre of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary of the UK.”

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