Former New Zealand Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, famously said “New Zealand’s foreign policy is trade” but New Zealand has recently condemned a human rights abuse at the potential risk to sheep or milk shipments to the Middle East.
The recent statement condemning, “in the strongest possible terms“, the murder of a journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey seems principled because New Zealand exports approximately half a billion dollars worth of goods annually to the Kingdom, despite a free trade agreement “pending the Gulf Cooperation Council resolving their dispute with Qatar” and the best efforts of former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully.
However, the selectivity of this strong condemnation raises questions about what actually underlies New Zealand foreign policy decisions.
The extrajudicial killing of a journalist – even if he was more than just that – in an embassy is worthy of censure. And we must ask why there is so much attention on this one case involving Saudi Arabia when there has been little attention given to Raif Badawi, Sarah Aziza, Loujain al-Hathloul – among some of the dissenters in Saudi Arabia who have been arrested or gone missing – or any of the 130 journalists murdered by governments around the world, according to CPJ, over the past decade.
Ben Weingarten, a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, summed up the disproportionate focus on the Khashoggi affair, saying
” In the final analysis, none of the actors with which [the US] must deal in the Middle East save for Israel believe in anything resembling Western values. But America must operate in the world as it is, rather than as we wish it to be.Some are using the Khashoggi saga as a cynical ploy to pressure the Trump administration to relinquish its partnership with regimes that, although brutal and repressive, share a common adversary in Iran, and may be useful in suppressing jihadist forces. …The Khashoggi affair has revealed significantly more about the nature of our media and political establishment than about the Islamic world and American foreign policy.Ben Weingarten
Those who are fuelling the “Khashoggi crisis” while refusing to subject Iran to equivalent scrutiny for similar behaviour could be seen as hypocrites. Not only has Iran recently flogged journalists and imprisoned them without charge, and previously admitted to murdering journalists in police custody; Iran is also the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.
Iran is repeatedly and habitually implicated in terror activities around the globe, including the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Centre in Argentina; funding the designated terror group, Hezbollah, that has taken over Lebanon; Iran openly declares its intent to destroy Israel and is taking steps to that end; and only last month France claimed Iranian officials, “without any doubt“, planned to bomb a rally of Iranian dissidents in Paris. And Iran uses children as soldiers in some of their proxy wars.
While unnamed MFAT officials met with the Saudi Embassy in Wellington to raise New Zealand’s concerns over Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance, there are no reports of officials raising concerns at the Iranian embassy in Wellington over terror activities or human rights abuses. There has also been no mention of the fact that the Iranian Ambassador to NZ, His Excellency Mr Jalaladdin Namini Mianji, served his country in North Korea leading to the period of “dangerous nuclear proliferation” between these two rogue regimes.
In 2016, then Prime Minister John Key reportedly raised human rights issues with Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, specifically the death penalty known to be used against homosexuals. Mr Key seemingly dismissed the executions saying
“We had quite a long talk about why so many people were being put to death. [Zarif] reaffirmed … that that’s in relation to drug trafficking.”John Key
At the same time, Key was asked about Iranian missile tests where the weapons had “Israel must be wiped out” written on them. Key told reporters it was “provocative” but was likely done by a soldier rather than the Government and the tests were no reason to question the nuclear deal because they only “undermined that process a little bit“.
Why does New Zealand speak up against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but remains silent about the Islamic Republic of Iran?
Could it be for similar reasons that New Zealand’s initial reaction to the Russian Federation poisoning of a spy and his daughter in the UK was to claim there were no “undeclared [Russian] intelligence officers” in New Zealand? Or why MFAT warned MPs not to attend Falun Gong events in case it offended China?
And is it the same reason that New Zealand consistently condemns Israel at the United Nations by voting alongside Iran and other non-democratic nations, remains silent in the face of evidence that Hamas and PA arrest and torture dissidents, and expresses “regret” over the “one-sided” loss of life in Gaza (even though most of the casualties are terrorists) without mentioning Hamas or condemning Arab Palestinian terror? In fact, the last New Zealand MP to clearly condemn terror against Israel was Helen Clark in 2006.
Has New Zealand’s ideology moved so far from traditional allies that it is now siding with the likes of Iran, Russia, and China over the likes of the United States and the United Kingdom?
Trade is certainly part of the political calculus, even though the condemnation of Saudi Arabia was issued despite possible trading implications. Iran was New Zealand’s fifth biggest export market, mostly from the lamb trade, before sanctions were placed on the Islamic Republic. The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) – known as the “Iran nuclear deal” – lifted the sanctions and some Kiwis have cautiously resumed trade, with $120m worth of exports sent in 2017.
However, in May 2018 the United States President, Donald Trump, fulfilled an election campaign promise to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal, stating that US will not allow “a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ to gain nuclear weapons”. The UK, France, and Germany opposed the US withdrawal despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressing concern about Iran’s ballistic missile program, and French President Emmanuel Macron strongly advocating for additions to the JCPOA including preventing weapons development post-2025 (when the JCPOA expires), improving the monitoring of Iran’s facilities, and an “eco-containment of the Iranian activity in the region“.
New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, called the US withdrawal a step backwards and said the JCPOA “made for a more stable, predictable Middle East… The world is better off having a deal rather than no deal”. This is unsurprising as New Zealand played a role as UN Security Council president in adopting UNSC Resolution 2231, which endorsed the comprehensive agreement. New Zealand has not raised any concerns at all about the nuclear deal.
The New Zealand embassy in Tehran was established in 1975, making it the longest-standing mission in the Middle East, and it is accredited to Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan. The ambassador is Hamish MacMaster, who was previously ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and was posted to Turkey and Iran before then. His clear mandate is to increase trade with the Islamic Republic, and trade was clearly a motivating factor in 2014 when advisor to the PM, Timothy Webster, met with Iranian officials ahead of the 2331 vote. Perhaps trade potential is why New Zealand has remained silent about Iranian infractions.
However, on the MFAT website for the embassy, the first news article highlighted pertains to New Zealand’s co-sponsorship of UNSC Resolution 2334 – a resolution that National Party leader, Simon Bridges, didn’t think would have passed cabinet had proper procedure been followed and which led to the recall of the Israeli ambassador who only returned after diplomatic efforts – and not a story about Resolution 2231.
If trade is a consideration in foreign policy and human rights are also part of the decision-making process, New Zealand should align more with Israel rather than continuing to remain uncritical of Israel’s enemies – Iran, Hamas or other terror groups.
Israel, a small country like NZ, has had a free trade agreement with the USA since at least 1985. Israel now has the third most companies listed on the Nasdaq, after the USA itself and China; and Israel had $23b worth of company exits in 2017. Furthermore, the recently signed Innovation agreement between Australia and Israel is estimated to be worth $2b annually in bilateral trade. Yet New Zealand has no embassy in Israel – Ms Wendy Hinton is ambassador to Israel, Jordan, and Turkey and based in Ankara.
The statement condemning the murder of Khashoggi is important for the sake of holding Saudi Arabia to account. And questions remain as to why there was a formal comment on this matter while New Zealand ministers refuse to clearly condemn Arab Palestinian terror, have not voiced any concern over the Iran deal, and many other similar – if not worse – abuses of human rights around the world. The selective outrage raises uncomfortable questions about what is truly behind political statements and exactly what underlies NZ foreign policy.