Quick action won UN vote

As the horror of MH17 sank in, that 298 people had been killed by a missile strike most likely fired using Russian equipment, the Abbott Government moved quickly to establish a strong international response.

It was Friday and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop was in Brisbane. She rushed to Sydney to see Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Ms Bishop spoke to foreign ministers of countries who had also lost citizens. Unable to contact her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, she spoke to Moscow's ambassador to Australia to gauge Russia's reaction.

It was not promising.

Soon work started on a draft resolution to present to the United Nations Security Council under the initial guidance of Gary Quinlan, Australia's top representative on the Security Council who, by chance, happened to be back in Australia. Kim Beazley, Australia's Ambassador to the US, also advised.

The draft proposed condemnation of the plane strike, accountability and a "full, thorough and international independent investigation".

A National Security Committee meeting was convened on Saturday. It was decided Ms Bishop should go to New York to lead Australia's pursuit of the resolution.

Ms Bishop flew Qantas to Tokyo that night before flying to Washington DC on Air Nippon. During her four-hour stopover in Tokyo on Sunday, she called some of the victims' relatives.

A heart-wrenching conversation with Anthony Maslin and Rin Norris, whose three children were killed, hardened her resolve to seek justice.

By the time Ms Bishop arrived in Washington, Australia had finalised the draft resolution and asked the Security Council's 14 other members to give their response at noon on Sunday.

Ms Bishop had briefings from the head of the CIA, the US director of national intelligence and the US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, a Russian specialist.

About a minute before the noon deadline, the Russians proposed amendments to the resolution, including substituting "shooting down" of the flight to "downing".

Australia, it was decided, would not oppose the modifications, as long as it kept Russia "within the tent", because even on Russia's version of events, if Ukraine was responsible for the downing of MH17, it could not reasonably oppose an investigation.

Australian diplomats, led by Mr Quinlan, redrafted the resolution and told Security Council members it would be presented for debate on Monday afternoon.

Late on Sunday, Russia singled out paragraph four, saying it opposed allowing Ukraine being put in charge of the investigation because it would not be impartial.

The Russians proposed the International Civil Aviation Organisation lead the investigation, which would have been illegal under the Chicago Convention. It mandates nations in which air crashes occur take charge.

"At this stage, we thought, 'Oh God, this thing's all over'," a source said.

Ms Bishop arrived in New York about 8pm and met Dutch counterpart Frans Timmermans, US Ambassador to the Security Council Samantha Power and Britain's permanent representative Mark Lyall Grant before heading into another meeting of Australia's National Security Committee scheduled for midnight New York time which she attended by secure link in the Australian mission.

Halfway through the meeting, Mr Quinlan burst in to say he might be able to get the Russians across the line. The idea emerged to ask Ukraine to ask the Netherlands to lead the probe to circumvent Moscow's objections. Mr Abbott lobbied world leaders, including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and critically, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Netherlands agreed to lead if asked, but Ukraine opposed surrendering the role. Vitaly Churkin, Russia's Ambassador to the UN, used a meeting with Ms Bishop to list theories on how the plane was downed, including a Ukraine jet had shot it, Ukraine had a SA11 missile system in the area and rebels may have taken a Ukraine SA11.

Ms Bishop challenged him to provide satellite or air traffic evidence for the alternative causes before telling him the theories had narrowed to one: that Russia-backed separatists had shot down MH17. To maximise the chances of the resolution's success, Australia sought co-sponsorship of every Security Council member nation as well as every nation that had lost citizens on MH17. Australia got 22 co-sponsors of its resolution. Russia and China declined.

It wasn't until yesterday, while Mr Timmermans was on his feet in the UN during debate of the resolution, that Ukraine said it would allow the Netherlands to lead.

The last potential block to success was gone. For the UN, the speed with which Australia's resolution was dealt with was remarkable, especially given Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon's absence and the crisis in Gaza. "We spent Friday drafting, Saturday circulating, Sunday negotiating, Monday voting and adopting," a senior Australian source said.

For a foreign affairs minister just 10 months into the job, Ms Bishop has notched up a significant diplomatic coup.

But the next challenge looms.

"Tomorrow, first thing, we start implementing," Ms Bishop said.

The West Australian

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