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Key's speech 'badly-timed' and 'wrong' - Williams

Monday 30 Sep 2013 9:10 a.m.

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Former Labour Party president Mike Williams has criticised Prime Minister John Key's speech at the United Nations last week, calling it "badly-timed" and "wrong".

In his speech Mr Key said the Security Council was a "powerless bystander" that had failed to protect the Syrian people, and called for the removal of the "arcane" power of veto wielded by the five permanent members – China, Russia, the US, the UK and France.

Mr Key also called for the adoption of a resolution to strip the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons arsenal, which the UN later agreed on – though without the threat of force Mr Key wanted included.

While in New York, Mr Key met with a number of world leaders, trying to rustle up support for a spot for New Zealand on the Security Council.

But Mr Williams, speaking on Firstline this morning, said Mr Key's speech won't help New Zealand's case.

"I think he was very badly briefed, and I don't think what he said is going to help us get a seat on the Security Council," says Mr Williams.

"The essence of his speech, which I read carefully, was that the Security Council is dysfunctional; it doesn't work. It doesn't come to any agreement because of the veto power of basically the five winners of World War II.

"But almost immediately that speech was proven wrong because they did come to an agreement on doing something about poison gas in Syria, and they've all agreed that there's a UN team going in there. Now that was the wrong speech."

But former National Party president Michelle Boag, also appearing on Firstline this morning, disagreed. She said it was a speech pitched at the other 188 countries which make up the United Nations.

"My understanding is that the speech was welcomed by a whole lot of countries – including, in fact, even though the five permanent members were criticised – they in fact accept that it has been far too long in them making ground on Syria," says Ms Boag.

She says New Zealand's willingness to criticise the Security Council veto process shows our independence.

"New Zealand has never supported the veto, even from the time the Security Council was established. We've always been seen as independent.

"You've got to remember there are about 188 other countries out there with a vote on the Security Council, and John Key has been working that very hard."

She says New Zealand "punches above its weight in international affairs", as demonstrated by former Prime Minister Helen Clark's high standing in the United Nations, as head of the UN Development Programme.

New Zealand's rivals for a spot on the Security Council are Spain and Turkey. The vote will be held in October 2014, with the winner taking a seat on the council for two years.

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