Q+A: NZ welcomes US-Russia plan on Syria
Sunday 15 September, 2013
NZ welcomes US-Russia plan on Syria
New Zealand foreign affairs minister Murray McCully has told TV One’s Q+A programme he welcomes a US-Russia plan as the best hope for a resolution to the Syria situation.
Speaking from San Francisco, Mr Cully says the plan is “the best way forward we’ve seen so far”.
The plan calls for Syria to give up its chemical weapons by mid-2014. The move comes weeks after a chemical attack on a Damascus suburb.
The US says the Syrian government headed by Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the attack which allegedly killed 1400 people, while Russia says rebel fighters are responsible. Neither side has produced evidence to back their claims.
Mr McCully says at last the world will see the United Nations Security Council play some sort of role in the crisis.
“We’ve made it very clear from the outset that we’d prefer to see these matters dealt with in the multilateral environment of the Security Council. We’ve been disappointed that the Security Council hasn’t been able to meet in full. The P5 members have been meeting amongst themselves, not the full Security Council. We think that’s a bad way to try and deal with the sort of crisis that the UN Security Council was established to deal with. We understand the US position perfectly, but we’ve said we want to exhaust the multilateral process before we look at anything outside it. We freely accept that we might get to a position where countries do have to think outside that multilateral environment, but we prefer not to rush into that space,” Mr McCully says.
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CORIN DANN INTERVIEWS MURRAY MCCULLY
Russia and the United States have just struck a deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons by the middle of next year. Now, this come weeks after a chemical attack on a suburb in the capital, Damascus, which the US claims killed more than 1400 people. The United States says it is evidence the Syrian regime is responsible. Russia, though, says it is evidence that rebel fighters did it. Neither country has produced the evidence. Corin spoke earlier to Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, who’s in San Francisco for the America’s Cup, and asked him if the plan is a good way forward.
MURRAY MCCULLY -
Foreign Affairs Minister
It’s the best way forward we’ve seen so far. We’re not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination, but this is a whole lot better track than we’ve seen recently, and we’re at last going to see the United Nations Security Council play some sort of role, and that’s very welcome and overdue.
Should that-? So, they will put some sort of a resolution in to sort of bind this in, if you like, but should that include the use of force to make sure the Syrians do what they say?
MURRAY Well, my understanding is that’s been where much of the discussion is being taking place, and references to Chapter 7 and so on have been debated over the last day or so. I think that both sides will want to take that fairly carefully forward, possibly a little ambiguously forward. I hope that we can keep this momentum moving in the right direction and that the technical people will be able to deliver on their part of the discussions over the coming days as well.
CORIN What’s NZ’s position, though? Do we think, as a country, that force must be in that resolution to ensure that Syria does what it says and we get rid of these chemical weapons?
MURRAY Oh, look, I don’t think it’s going to help for me to try and dictate that from outside the Security Council environment. I think the countries that are there need to grapple with those sorts of questions. But what I would say is that the NZ Government has always believed that the Security Council needs to play a role, and they need to be prepared to back up their words with some form of action, and obviously we think that having that process underway is a lot better than one that involves action outside the multilateral process. Let’s just try and take this step by step. It’s time, I think, for people to be calm and constructive.
CORIN But, of course, President Obama is still saying that he reserves the right to take some unilateral action. Again, where does NZ sit on that? Does it believe that it is the right of the United States to have that position?
MURRAY We’ve made it very clear from the outset that we’d prefer to see these matters dealt with in the multilateral environment of the Security Council. We’ve been disappointed that the Security Council hasn’t been able to meet in full. The P5 members have been meeting amongst themselves, not the full Security Council. We think that’s a bad way to try and deal with the sort of crisis that the UN Security Council was established to deal with. We understand the US position perfectly, but we’ve said we want to exhaust the multilateral process before we look at anything outside it. We freely accept that we might get to a position where countries do have to think outside that multilateral environment, but we prefer not to rush into that space. We prefer countries to try and use that process, and we think it’s fair that the international community should say to those who might have been tempted to use the veto that their responsibility here is to try and ensure that there’s a constructive discussion and that threats of the veto are not used. NZ’s been a long-standing opponent of that sort of tactic.
CORIN Have you had any briefings on this new solution with John Key already or the Russians, for example?
MURRAY No, I haven’t. I haven’t spoken to either of the representatives of the two governments, but we have had briefings from their people to ours, and I’ve received those. So we’re keeping very closely informed on this. We think that these are important developments, and we want to encourage those who are making progress to make some more.
CORIN Is there any way that NZ could be potentially involved in terms of the-? Because the process of actually going into find these chemical weapons could be very difficult. Could we help?
MURRAY Well, we need to see some goodwill from the parties if that’s going to happen and particularly from the Syrian Government. Those are things that we’ll see in the days ahead. It’s possible that some NZ expertise might be sought. Haven’t had word of that at this stage, but clearly the UN’s going to have to source some expertise and some logistical arrangements from somewhere, and we’ll see where they want to turn.
CORIN You know, is that something NZ would like to be able to offer? You know, to make a contribution if we could?
MURRAY I think it’s early days for that. The discussion has only taken place in the last few days, and I think people are only now turning their minds to some of the quite challenging technical issues that need to be resolved if we’re going to see the chemical weapons removed and dealt with. I’m not sure whether NZ has relevant skills in that respect. If we did, we’d obviously be amongst those countries they’d consider asking. But that’s ahead of us. At this stage, we’re just waiting to see what those technical experts tell us is needed in the days ahead.
CORIN John McCain has come out pretty strongly against this plan in the United States overnight, saying that basically it’s heading up a blind diplomatic alley. Is this letting the Assad regime off the hook here? Can we trust them?
MURRAY Well, that’s again something we need to find out, and countries like NZ, I think, have got to be open here. We’ve been encouraging people to use the multilateral process. We know that that requires some goodwill from parties like the Syrian regime. If the game ahead suggests that they’re not going to show that goodwill, then clearly other matters need to be discussed, and countries like NZ can’t just hide behind multilateral processes where they’re clearly failing. We’re simply saying that we should try them first before we assume they’re going to fail, and where parties show that they’re not going to be cooperative in the final analysis, we have to turn our minds to other steps. So those are things we’ll see in the days ahead. We’d be, I think, very unfortunate indeed if we saw the Syrians or anyone else having invited this path, then not show good faith to follow through with it. That would be a very serious matter. It would invite very strong condemnation and action from others.
CORIN And, again, at that point, you’re not ruling out the possibility of backing a United States military action?
MURRAY No, I think we’ve always left the way ahead open. We’ve simply said that we would prefer to see - strongly prefer to see - the multilateral process used. What that means is getting the Security Council to actually meet and discuss the issue. But it hasn’t done so. It means getting the Security Council to try and get nine votes in favour of a resolution, because you don’t have a veto unless there are nine votes in favour of a resolution. And then if countries want to exercise the veto, we can, I think, accept that some thought to other processes outside the UN will be turned to. But we should take those steps in that order. That’s NZ’s strong view. But if we get to the end of that process and there is no good result, then I think it would be intellectually dishonest to say that we won’t talk about any other steps. We should try the right ones first.
CORIN Ok, minister, obviously some pretty hair-raising sailing where you are this afternoon your time. Just tell us first your thoughts when it looked like Aotearoa, the boat, was about to go over.
MURRAY Yeah, well, I had a grandstand view of these events. I was out on the water. It happened right in front of us, and it was one of those real heart-stopping moments. There was just stunned silence from all of us, and I certainly thought it was going all the way over. It’s credit to the courage of the guys that they were still grinding to get the hydraulics working. But just a reminder, I think, of how much on the edge, particularly in these conditions, this event is being sailed, and a reminder, as Grant and others have been telling us, that they’ve got to take this step by step and not get too busy with planning victory ceremonies just yet.
CORIN And, of course, the government, John Key, has signalled potentially some more money if we do win this thing. That’s still the thinking? Although, as you say, don’t want to get too far ahead of yourselves.
MURRAY Yeah, that’s right. I think we need to listen to Grant Dalton and others and accept this is being played out step by step. And, I’ve got to say, the Prime Minister isn’t quite mad enough to let me loose in San Francisco with the taxpayers’ chequebook. But clearly we are hoping to be in a position to have a constructive conversation with Team NZ. We would very much like to see NZ have to think very hard over the next few days about how we could host an event. But let’s just keep our fingers crossed and hope the guys can regroup in the next day or two ahead.