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Abbott-Putin showdown locked in for APEC

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s promise to deliver Vladimir Putin a robust conversation will come to a head on Tuesday with the Kremlin confirming the two leaders will hold formal talks at the APEC summit in Beijing.


Mr Abbott has been seeking a face-to-face meeting with the Russian president since Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down over east Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.

In announcing the request had been granted, Mr Putin’s top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov added the Tuesday meeting “will be short”.

Mr Abbott, who departs for the summit on Sunday morning, did not repeat his previous threat to “shirtfront” the Russian president when asked about their impending talk.

But he said they’d have “a robust conversation” to ensure Mr Putin guarantees he’s doing everything possible to assist investigations into the MH17 disaster.

“I will speak for our dead, I will speak for our nation, I will speak for decency and for humanity,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hosed down concerns Mr Abbott’s previous choice of language would derail discussions.

“Since the phrase shirtfront was used, I understand it has now entered the diplomatic lexicon of many countries,” she said.

Mr Abbott is also expected to meet with US President Barack Obama during the leaders forum on Monday, where regional heads aim to clinch a pan-Pacific trade deal.

Australia is also confident about concluding a Free Trade Agreement with China, the negotiations of which have dragged on for about 10 years.

Ms Bishop said she would be “delighted” to have the agreement finalised ahead of the G20 summit in Brisbane on November 15.

“But we’re not pursuing an agreement for the sake of an agreement, it has to be in our national interest,” she said.

Ms Bishop met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Beijing on Saturday to discuss both countries’ commitment in the fight against Islamic State, as well as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

She also had her first meeting with new Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi – who was appointed to replace Marty Natalegawa by new president Joko Widodo.

Ms Bishop said Ms Marsudi did not raise any concerns about Australia’s immigration policies, but they did discuss the Bali Process more generally.

“We noted that the people smuggling trade had been significantly dismantled, and that both Australia and Indonesia had been beneficiaries of that,” she said.

The APEC summit marks the beginning of a whirlwind week of diplomacy for Mr Abbott, who will also visit Myanmar for Asian security talks before returning to Australia to host the G20.