New Zealand’s seat on the Security Council is beginning to pay tangible dividends on the trade front.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif included a New Zealand stop on a five nation swing through Asia and that was largely because of our seat on the Council.

Even so it meant he spent most of yesterday talking trade with various Ministers and also the Middle Eastern Business council.

This at a time when  world attention is focussed on a series of ballistic missile tests conducted by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards last week.

The United States, France and other countries  have said that if confirmed, the new launches of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles would violate the  U.N. Security Council resolution of July last year which committed Iran to an exclusively peaceful nuclear programme.

New Zealand chaired the Security Council meeting that confirmed the resolution and will sit on the Council to hear the latest complaint.

But judging from Dr Zarif’s visit and the trade advantages that can now accrue to New Zealand because of the end of the sanctions, any move to reimpose them would be unwelcome here. 

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that the missile tests were “unhelpful and a far from, useful action” by Iran but he said he did not think it breached the P5+1 agreement between a number of countries and Iran which brought about the agreement to end the sanctions.

He said it was up to the Security Council to decide whether the test was lawful.

Speaking last night in the Beehive Banquet Hall Dr Zarif made an impassioned defence of Iran’s missiles.

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“We spend a fraction of anybody’s defence budget in the region on defence — a tenth of Saudi Arabia; a fifth of the United Arab Emirates, not to mention Israel,’ he said.

“Our means of defence are missiles.

“In our history we have not invaded a country; we have not taken military action against a country for 250 years but we defend ourselves and we defend ourselves with everything we’ve got.”

He said Iran was being threatened on a daily basis by Israel that it would take military action against it.

“People have been begging (Israel Prime Minister) Netanyahu for seven or eight years – please don’t attack Iran.

“Why in hell should he even suggest that he would attack Iran?

“Where is the justification?

“Is it the law of the jungle?

“Do we not have a requirement in international law that prohibits the use of force?”

And he asked what the United States meant when it said all options were on the table.

He repeated his argument that Iran had never invaded anybody.

“But anybody who is foolish enough to attack Iran – we’ll get them.”

New Zealand established diplomatic relations with Iran in 1975 when the country was becoming a major market for sheep meat particularly mutton.

By the mid 80s Iran was New Zealand’s fifth largest export market but after the Iran – Iraq War the market tailed off and when the UN sanctions were introduced in 2006 what little trade was left disappeared entirely.

The halal killing procedures employed in New Zealand freezing works were introduced as a consequence of the original trade with Iran.

Mr Key said there were now quite a lot of opportunities in Iran.

“You’ve got 80 million people and a growing middle class there so there’s quite a demand for our products, not just meat, but other halal products as well.”

Dr Zarif said his consultations with the New Zealand Ministers on issues affecting the Middle East had been good region and that his meeting with the Middle East Business council had indicated a great deal of interest in doing business with Iran.

He said the business could go beyond the traditional trade of oil and gas on the one hand and meat on the other and extend out to science and technology, education and tourism.

This has been an important visit both in terms of New Zealand’s role on the Security Council but also because it looks like re-opening what was once a major New Zealand export market.