NZ ready to talk Iraq with US

23:11, Jun 15 2014

The Government isn't yet ruling out the possibility of standing by the United States, if military intervention is required in Iraq.

But Prime Minister John Key said the likelihood of New Zealand sending in troops to the war-torn region was low.

Key is set to meet President Obama on Saturday (NZ time) after a round of meetings in New York shoring up this country's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

As Iraq has plunged into fresh crisis as Sunni militants rapidly advance south
and have already taken over towns surrounding the capital of Baghdad.

Thousands responded to a call at the weekend, by the country's most influential Shi'ite cleric to take up arms and defend the country against the hardline insurgents, many of whom consider Shi'ites as heretics.

Key said any request for assistance from New Zealand would be carefully considered.

"I've given the same response as I always do, which is New Zealand would always listen to requests for multi-lateral support," he said on Morning Report.

"In terms of the NATO-ISAF response we ended up being a part of in Afghanistan, what I would say about that is a) the probability of a request like that is highly unlikely and b) I'd be making it very clear that's not something we're terribly interested in, and c) while we understand completely the challenge of the situation and the very difficult position everybody finds themselves in, that's not a place New Zealand wants to be."

Obama has made it clear he would not be sending US troops to fight on the ground. But the door has been left open for aerial strikes, and a US aircraft carrier is on its way to the region.

But Key was confident military intervention was the last resort for any country, saying: "I think everybody from the United States downward believe that is the least preferred option."

"There's a lot of factions, it's violence driven of sectarian disputes. And I think in a lot of ways the US will be desperate to try and find a way for the parties to reach some sort of agreement or find a diplomatic and peaceful way through it.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said there had been no discussion so far about how to help the more than half a million refugees created by the conflict.

"But New Zealand always pulls its weight in this kind of international humanitarian situation."

Key said Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully could already be working on a package for humanitarian assistance.

Key said any aid provided by New Zealand, would likely be through Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised against all travel to Iraq, saying there was "extreme risk" to personal safety for any foreigners including New Zealanders.

"Terrorism, kidnapping and the hostile security situation present a significant risk to New Zealanders in Iraq.

"The intensity and frequency of security incidents and sectarian violence in Iraq has increased. This trend is expected to continue.

"Attacks continue to target foreigners, Iraqi political figures and those associated with the Iraqi government."