Auckland, January 13, 2020
National Party has said that the government should ignore advice from Iran and not pick a side in its conflict with the United States of America.
Iran’s embassy in Wellington told RNZ yesterday that New Zealand should come out against the “wrong approach” of the Trump administration.
It called on New Zealand to promote peace and security in the Middle East after it fired rockets on US bases in Iraq.
National’s Defence Spokesperson Mark Mitchell said that the government should remain independent.
“We are not up there to take advice or directions from Iran. What we would is that … we welcome the fact they are engaging with the US and using diplomatic channels to try to resolve the tension,” he said.
He was happy that US President Donald Trump had reported a stay in conflict but said New Zealand should not be distracted from its purpose in the Middle East.
“We should be pleased that there is a return to diplomatic channels and that is going to be the best way to resolve this. In terms of our role in Iraq is that all the coalition and the Iraqi government need to remain focused and not distracted on the fact that the reason why we made this significant commitment was to defeat ISIS and make sure they didn’t come back. Not only were they a threat to the region, they were a global threat. And although most of the work has been done … if the coalition was to leave then in my experience in Iraq then it would create a vacuum where there is a real risk that ISIS would come back,” Mr Mitchell said.
When asked about the Iraqi government’s request that foreign military leave the country, Mitchell said, “The Iraqi government has passed a resolution … there are more democratic processes that they have to go through in terms of passing legislation … I hope that calmer heads would prevail and that there would be a reset and they would get their focus back on the fact that ISIS is the real threat … and let Iran and the US work through diplomatic channels in resolving those issues.
“All that I would say is that … we should be very clear that our expectation is that (the Iraqi government) do everything they can to maintain security, especially around coalition bases to prevent any type of direct or indirect fire attack.”
The government and the New Zealand Defence Force have both refused be interviewed on the situation in the Middle East.
Iran’s call to New Zealand
Iran’s embassy in Wellington has on New Zealand to promote peace and security in the Middle East after rockets fell on US bases in Iraq this afternoon.
The US Department of Defence confirmed that Iran launched more than a dozen rockets against the US military facilities of al-Asad base in western Iraq and Erbil in the north.
Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said that New Zealand personnel in Iraq were as safe they could be – but added he was deeply concerned.
Video circulating on Iranian state media showed the moment a volley of missiles apparently landed on the large al-Asad base.
Not long afterwards, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard claimed credit for the attack, which it said was revenge for the killing of its general Qassem Soleimani by the “Great Satan” America.
It contained a warning to allies of the US, too, stating that any nations aiding the American mission could be targeted.
New Zealand has around 45 personnel currently stationed at Camp Taji on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Relations not affected
The Iranian embassy in Wellington released a statement to RNZ which said the latest events would not negatively affect friendly relations between New Zealand and Iran.
“We expect New Zealand, as an influential member of the international community, to once again use its international position in reacting to this wrong approach to have peace and security in the Middle East and the world.”
But the statement had a warning for all foreign forces in the Middle East.
“We hope that the international community will play its role in modifying the unlawful actions of some foreign powers in the region and prevent any unintended occurrence. Otherwise, serious damage will affect all international and domestic players involved.”
Peters said that he was deeply concerned about escalating hostilities.
“Now is the time for restraint and de-escalation, and for diplomacy to take over,” he said.
“It is important to note that the missile attacks did not target Camp Taji and the government has been informed that all New Zealand personnel are as safe as they can be in these developing circumstances.”
Defence Minister Ron Mark said that he was not considering withdrawing New Zealand troops from the country before the official withdrawal due in June.
“We will continue to talk to coalition partners, we will continue to collaborate alongside them and we will make our decisions based on the situation at the time. But at the moment, it is a case of being alert, being aware and making sure that we keep our people as safe as possible,” he said.
The global pattern
Like most other governments, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s administration has neither condemned nor endorsed the US drone strike which killed Soleimani, only calling for a de-escalation of hostilities.
Jon Stephenson, a New Zealand journalist who has spent years covering conflict and politics in the Middle East, felt that was not enough.
“I am concerned that there has been a lack not just of political leadership but of moral leadership by Western politicians. They need to step up now and make it clear to the Trump administration that they’re very concerned,” he said.
“It’s fine for Justin Trudeau, Angela Merkel, Boris Johnson and Jacinda Ardern to snigger behind Trump’s back at international meetings, but this is where it really counts.”
Stephenson believed that New Zealand troops were at greater risk than they were before the killing of Soleimani.
“That risk, in my view, is far more likely to come from Iraqi militias who are aligned with Iran than from the Iranian military itself,” he said.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the strikes against the US were “proportionate measures” carried out in self defence.
He said Iran did not seek an escalation or war, but would “defend ourselves against any aggression”.
US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, earlier tweeted that “all is well” and that the assessment of casualties and damage was underway.
“So far so good,” according to Trump.
Published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz