NZPA | Monday, 26 February 2007
Foreign Minister Winston Peters says a sudden withdrawal of troops from Iraq would see the country slide into chaos.
Mr Peters offered what he said was a personal opinion at a joint press conference with his Australian counterpart Alexander Downer in Wellington today.
Mr Downer told journalists Australia would not be withdrawing its troops serving alongside the United States forces in Iraq because it was “mates”.
He warned that withdrawal would mean a victory for insurgents and terrorists, which would have far reaching consequences for the world even threatening more terrorism in South-East Asia.
New Zealand opposed the invasion of Iraq, but has been largely silent on the politics of the ongoing occupation.
New Zealand army engineers served in Iraq for a short time after the occupation of Iraq, but none have returned since.
Mr Peters said New Zealand wanted a democratic government in Iraq.
“The fact we have a difference of opinion (with Australia and the US) over the origins of the intervention, it is not the issue now. The issue now is how can there be an exit from Iraq where there is successful self-governing democracy,” Mr Peters said.
Asked about withdrawal of troops from Iraq, Mr Peters said: “I can not see how that would advantage that happening right now in February 2007.
“I think the circumstances would slide into total chaos, if that was to happen.”
Asked about Mr Peters’ comments, Prime Minister Helen Clark said the situation in Iraq was difficult and would not offer her opinion on what should happen.
“We are not there, we do not have troops there and I think it is gratuitous for me to give advice to those who do. Iraq faces a lot of difficulties even staying together as one nation in the time ahead, but we are not a player,” Miss Clark said.
“I don’t intend to pronounce on when how why others who did intervene and are still there should withdraw.”
Mr Downer told journalists that Australia was not going to abandon the US when the going got tough or became unpopular.
“It sort of gets to the notion of mateship in Australia really. Do you just abandon your mates?” Mr Downer said.
“Do we say to the Americans you can do it all, we are just going to abandon you, or do we stick by them? I think we feel in the end we stick by our mates in difficult times.
“It is always easy to stick by your mates when everything is going swimmingly but I think the true test of friendship is sticking by your mates when things are tough,” Mr Downer said.
He said his comments were not in anyway intended towards New Zealand not going to war with its old allies.
“New Zealand is in a very different position. . . New Zealand sticks with us through difficult times,” Mr Downer said.
“Who can we always rely on? New Zealand.”
Mr Downer also warned global security would be weakened if the US lost the war in Iraq.
“If the terrorists and the insurgents win in Iraq – the democratic institutions are destroyed, the Americans and their allies humiliated and defeated – then the consequences in terms of the war against terrorism, including right down into our neighbourhood in south-east Asia will be dire,” Mr Downer said.
“Australia’s security would be substantially diminished by a victory by the terrorists and insurgents in Iraq. I know that,” he said.
Mr Peters also told journalists that New Zealand had been asked by other countries with troops in Afghanistan to extend its deployment and increase the numbers there.
He said Cabinet had yet to make decisions on the issue.
Mr Downer also dismissed reports on the possibility of a US military strike on Iran.
“The leadership in the United States is not on the threshold of launching military action against Iran,” Mr Downer said.
Some commentators chose to believe that the US was planning invasion and it detracted from the issue.
“Instead of beating up on the Bush administration, I think people should be beating up on, I could use this in the nicest possible way, diplomatically beating up on (Iranian) President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad and encouraging him to respect the United Nations,” he said.
Mr Downer said New Zealand should take a strong lead on the issue because of its anti-nuclear stance.
Miss Clark said she did not discuss that issue with Mr Downer, but New Zealand was fully supportive of the United Nations’ actions.
Iran lacked transparency and should show to the rest of the world that it was not developing nuclear weapons, she said.