Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

US thanks NZ for 'unambiguous' stand against Assad

Foreign Minister Murray McCully says New Zealand has made no such statement. Photo / Marty Melville
Foreign Minister Murray McCully says New Zealand has made no such statement. Photo / Marty Melville

The United States yesterday thanked New Zealand for its "strong and unambiguous stand" against the Bahsar al-Assad regime having used chemical weapons against the people of Syria.

But New Zealand has made no such statement.

Neither Prime Minister John Key nor Foreign Minister Murray McCully has yet laid the blame for the August 21 attack on civilians at the Syrian Government's feet.

But the Pacific Islands Forum leaders, including Mr Key , issued an unequivocal statement on Thursday statement expressing "abhorrence at the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government."

The thanks were conveyed by No 8 in President Barack Obama's cabinet, Sally Jewell, at a press conference in the Marshall Islands with Mr Key after the Pacific Islands Forum.

"I want to thank the New Zealand Government for taking a strong and unambiguous stand against the horrendous use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria by the Assad regime," she said.

She said she had also thanked the Pacific Islands Forum "for taking a similar position, strongly condemning the actions of the Assad regime in using chemical weapons."

Mr McCully told the Weekend Herald later he and Mr Key had been very clear about a growing body of evidence about chemical weapons and a mounting body of evidence that it was the regime who were responsible.

But they had not made unambiguous statements.

"I don't think the Prime Minister has said that and I haven't said that."

Mr McCully said New Zealand has not yet abandoned the United Nations Security Council as the proper place to address the attacks, despite the United States doing so.

He expressed extreme dissatisfaction that the Security Council had not yet even held a discussion on the issue and yet the five permanent members of the Security Council (US, UK, China, Russia and France) had been briefed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

"We regard that as a highly retrograde trend and we are not yet prepared to let the Security Council off the hook, if you like," Mr McCully said just before leaving the Mashall Islands.

"We are reluctant to abandon the UN Security Council process.

"The consequences long term of a United Nations Security Council that can't deal with such an issue are profound."

US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, yesterday declared that the United States had given up on working with the Security Council saying "there is no viable path forward in this Security Council," and accusing Russia of holding the council hostage and shirking its responsibilities.

Mr McCully said New Zealand's energies so far had been spent trying to get the Security Council to address the issue.

"We haven't decided the next step yet other than to consider appropriate opportunities to brief other parties some time next week."

He said the Government would not necessarily put a motion to the Parliament in a bid to gain support for a US strike against Syria.

Mr Key spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday night before Mr Cameron left for the G20 summit hosted by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Mr Cameron presented what he said was new evidence to the summit about the nerve gas attack. But a spokesman for Mr Putin reportedly told Russian reporters that Britain was "a small island no one listens to apart from some oligarchs who had bought the Chelsea football club.

Mr Putin has hinted he would give Syria missile shields if the US led a military strike on Syria.

- NZ Herald

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