No New Zealand forces to Iraq, says Key

TRACY WATKINS IN NEW YORK
Last updated 10:22 18/06/2014
TRACY WATKINS/Stuff.co.nz

Prime minister John Key talks on NZ's possible involvement in the Iraq situation.

Helen Clark on Iraq

Key checks out Ground Zero

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Prime Minister John Key has ruled out sending special forces soldiers to Iraq as the United States mulls options in response to the unfolding crisis there.

Speaking in New York, Key said the New Zealand Government was looking at what humanitarian aid it might provide as tens of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced by a violent takeover of parts of the country.

He said it was high unlikely New Zealand would put "boots on the ground" in Iraq in terms of combat troops.

"We're not a country out there looking for a fight," he said.

Key made his comments after laying a wreath on behalf of New Zealanders at the 9/11 Memorial established at the site of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre.

The US has ruled out redeploying combat troops to Iraq but is weighing its options, which reportedly include air strikes and deploying special forces troops in an advisory capacity.

New Zealand special forces soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan in a similar role.

But Key said he did not believe it likely New Zealand special forces would be deployed or requested.

"I don't think that's likely," he said.

"We're just so far away from probably ever having to make that call.

"But in the end in so much as with any global issue, as things play out New Zealand would always look to the [United Nations] Security Council for its view and its sanction of anything that may happen.

"So you can never say never in a world where the Security Council decides that Iraq needs support of some sort - engineers or whatever it might be. That could always be considered but I think that's very unlikely."

Asked if that meant he could rule out New Zealand special forces soldiers being deployed to Iraq, even in an advisory capacity, Key responded; "I would say yes'.

He said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was working on a proposal for aid and "I don't think our involvement in Iraq [will be] any greater than that."

He confirmed also that New Zealand would take its lead from the UN Security Council on the issue.

Asked if he would give New Zealand's moral support to any unilateral action by the US, Key said he would want to discuss the matter with US President Barack Obama before ruling anything in or out.

He is due to meet Obama in Washington this week.

"It would be premature to do that before we have at least a chance to sit down with the president," he said.

"We are in a unique position - we happen to be in Washington this week, we are going to have some time to talk to the president, and he's obviously going to want to talk about those issues, so I think it's worth hearing him out."

Key is in New York to beef up New Zealand's pitch for a temporary seat on the Security Council, with the vote due in October.

"It really is a last-minute speed-dating pitch to try and get New Zealand over the line when it comes to the Security Council bid," he said.

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"The reality is we need 129 votes. We think we've done a good job over the course of the last seven years of this campaign ... and it's important I think from New Zealand's point of view to get that seat for the UN Security Council in 2015-2016."

HELEN CLARK CONCERNED

Former prime minister Helen Clark, now third-ranked at the United Nations as head of its development programme, said the situation in Iraq was concerning.

Key met Clark in New York today.

"The reports we were seeing ... there was fighting 37 miles [60 KILOMETRES] from Baghdad, the airport is quite exposed," she said.

"For UNDP we've evacuated everybody."

As New Zealand prime minister Clark opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

But while she always felt the opposition was the right decision, "I also think it's a long bow to draw a connection to what happened in 2003 and what's happening today".

"I think what's happening today has a lot more to do with the style of governance in Iraq and had it been more inclusive in recent years ... Iraq might be in a different space," she said.

- Stuff

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