No decision yet on Iraq deployment - Winston Peters

  • 10/02/2018
New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters. Photo credit: Getty, file

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters has kicked the can down the road on any decision to renew the work of Kiwi troops in Iraq, for which the country's mandate is set to expire in November.

Alongside Australian forces, about 110 Kiwi troops are currently working to train their Iraqi counterparts at the Taji air base, north of capital Baghdad.

That mission - which all three members of New Zealand's current governing coalition opposed while in opposition - is set to terminate in November.

Mr Peters, who engaged on Saturday in bilateral discussions with Australian counterpart Julie Bishop, said no decision would be made to renew the mandate until further liaison with the Iraqi government could occur.

That liaison could take place as soon as next week, when Ms Bishop and Kiwi foreign affairs officials attend meetings in Kuwait, with a concrete decision to be made after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern heads to Australia in March.

While there, she will discuss the issue with counterpart Malcolm Turnbull.

But Mr Peters indicated Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens would look to "keep an open mind", rather than stick to their previous objections.

New Zealand and Australian soldiers have trained about 28,500 Iraqi troops in the fight against Islamic State militants since 2015.

"We did discuss it but we did not enunciate, from our point of view, a decision," Mr Peters said when asked if he spoke about the mandate with Ms Bishop.

"You've got to keep an open mind, to deal with the circumstances you're confronted with, as we'll be confronted with in the last half of this year."

Mr Peters also saw no need to rush the decision, with Kiwi defence minister Ron Mark currently on a research mission overseas.

Mr Mark would report back to the Kiwi Government in due course.

Ms Bishop, meanwhile, reiterated that any work undertaken by Australian and Kiwi forces at Taji would require the permission of the Iraqi government.

"Australia's military contribution to Iraq continues into 2019 and that's been a decision of the Australian government, but this will depend upon the needs and requirements of other coalition partners, [and] in response to a request or otherwise from the Iraqi government," Ms Bishop said.

"Australia and New Zealand have acquitted themselves exceedingly well at Taji."

In talks in Sydney last November, Ms Ardern said she wouldn't withdraw Kiwi forces from Taji early, but also didn't make any commitments to Mr Turnbull.

NZN