Pacific Rim Allies Don't See Eye to Eye on Iraq

July 7, 2008 - 7:13 PM

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Representatives of Australia and New Zealand have presented statements to the U.N. Security Council that reflect considerable differences between the two neighbors and traditional allies when it comes to Iraq.

Participating in Tuesday's open debate on Iraq, the two Asia-Pacific countries' ambassadors - one representing a conservative government, the other a center-left one - delivered pointedly different messages to the world body.

Copies of the speeches were made available by the countries' foreign ministries.

Australian envoy John Dauth urged the council to move quickly to consider a further resolution dealing decisively with Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with the three-month-old Resolution 1441.

Failure to do so, he said, would risk jeopardizing the very basis of the global system of collective security.

Dauth pointed out that last November's resolution had given Iraq a "final opportunity" to meet its obligations while holding out serious consequences if it did not do so.

"Is the Security Council now saying Iraq should be given yet more opportunities and forget about the serious consequences?" he asked. "What message does this send to other states prepared to thumb their noses at international law and international norms?"

By contrast, New Zealand Ambassador Don McKay said his country believed the inspection and disarmament process should be allowed to "run its course."

While New Zealand recognized that the council must be able to authorize the use of force as a final resort, he said, it did not believe such action was justified now.

"We do not support military action against Iraq without a mandate from the Security Council, and we do not believe the council would be justified in giving that mandate at this time."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is under fire at home for sending a military contingent to the Persian Gulf in support of U.S. forces amassing there in preparation for a possible war.

Opinion surveys suggest his support is slipping as a result, but he has shrugged off both the poll figures and large anti-war rallies over the weekend.

His New Zealand counterpart, Helen Clark, is also taking domestic flak, but in her case from conservatives accusing her of failing to stand alongside Wellington's "traditional allies" - the U.S., Australia and Britain.

"We feel that the U.N. has a lot to do on the diplomatic path before it contemplates going anywhere near the use of force," was Clark's summary of her government's position on Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, the New Zealand prime minister addressed a women's labor gathering in Australia's second largest city, Melbourne, where she repeated her government's opposition to unilateral action against Iraq.

"Should there be war on Iraq, my government fears for the widespread resentment that would provoke in the Middle East against Western nations in general, for the likely stimulus terrorist organizations would gain from that resentment and for the high human costs a war would have," Clark told the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions' women's conference.

"All diplomatic means to contain Iraq have to be preferable to that."

'Domestic Interference'

Despite Clark's indirect repudiation of Howard's views on the matter, she told Australian reporters the different positions held by the two countries did not affect a "very, very close" bilateral relationship.

Nonetheless, a small New Zealand conservative party slammed Clark for what it called "a deliberate and provocative attack on John Howard's government and on the coalition of the willing."

Ken Shirley, foreign deputy leader of the ACT party, said Clark was interfering in Australia's domestic politics by delivering a speech in the country that so clearly sided with the opposition against the government.

Australia's Labor opposition has argued that a war with Iraq would increase the risk of terrorism - the theory echoed by Clark - while the Howard government says a more dovish approach would not reduce the risk.

Shirley called Clark's behavior "inappropriate" and "foolish."

"Her speech may have won her plaudits from her strident union audience, but it is sure to harm New Zealand's international standing with our traditional allies."

Tuesday's debate in New York gave an opportunity for non-Security Council members to air their views on the Iraq disarmament question.

It was requested by South Africa in its capacity as chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of developing nations that includes many with strong anti-Western sentiment, as well as all six countries designated "terror sponsors" by the State Department.

Among those who addressed the session were the envoy of Iraq and the permanent observer for the Arab League.

Up to 60 countries' representatives are expected to have their say by the end of the meeting Wednesday.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.