Meurant takes issue with McCully about the muscle we might flex to admonish Syrian thugs

So what has happened to a red-blooded ex copper?

The tossers at the Sunday Star-Times today have headlined former MP Ross Meurant’s concerns about some feisty foreign-policy changes now on the drawing board.

Murray McCully is taking credit for these proposed changes, at least for now, although (just quietly) Murray is a dab hand at distancing himself from anything controversial if things go awry.

And he knows how not to be spattered when the shit hits the fan, which might be an appropriate expression in this case, because Meurant imports – or was thinking about importing – fertiliser.

Phosphate, as it happens.

But let’s not let that small detail get in the way of a figure of speech.

The proposal that concerns Meurant is simple and – in Alf’s book – compelling.

It’s the idea of doing whatever we think is right, no matter what the United Nations might think, and slapping sanctions on countries that irritate us.

Hence we won’t have to wait for a United Nations vote to sanction the sanctions.

McCully told the Sunday Star-Times his proposal, if approved by his cabinet colleagues, wouldn’t come to pass for at least a year and is not yet aimed at any particular country. He said if passed, his proposal would follow the lead of legislation passed in Australia last year (which has allowed them to impose autonomous sanctions against Iran, Myanmar, Fiji, North Korea and Zimbabwe).

McCully denied the proposal would mean New Zealand was snuggling up to the United States, as New Zealand runs “an independent foreign policy, and we make up our own minds”.

He noted, however, that Syria is indeed one example of a country where the United Nations Security Council appears “unable to agree on any sort of resolution”.

As the SST notes, more than 8000 people have died in the past year in that benighted country as the authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad seeks to crush public protest.

You would think the United Nations would be keen to do humanitarian good deeds and bring the authorities to heel.

But nah.

US-led attempts to impose sanctions through the UN Security Council have repeatedly been blocked by vetoes from Russia and China.

So Murray is saying we should cock a snook at the United Nations, do our own thing and (the icing on the cake) snuggle closer to Uncle Sam for good measure.

Meurant is saying it’s a bad idea.

Controversial Kiwi businessman and former cop Ross Meurant has come out swinging at proposals by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully to make it easier for New Zealand to ignore the United Nations when imposing trade sanctions on other countries.

Meurant, a polarising figure since his days as head of the notorious police “Red Squad” during the 1981 Springbok Tour, says McCully is seeking to “demonstrate his subservience to America’s blueprint of who should rule the world”, and if New Zealand gains the right to impose autonomous sanctions, it will be used to stifle trade with countries the US does not approve of, such as Syria.

So does anyone know somebody who might want to trade with Syria?

Hmm. Let’s think.

Oh, yes.

Meurant has a particular interest in Syria because since 2007 he has been involved in an abalone aquaculture project there. Six months ago he began setting up a business exporting phosphate from Syria to New Zealand for agricultural use, but the deteriorating political and security situation halted those plans.

While New Zealand currently has no restrictions on trade with Syria, Meurant says US restrictions on financial transactions with Syria make things complicated.

Complicated for him, anyway.

“I was thwarted by the US financial transactions blockade in making payment in US dollars to Syria for a sample container of phosphate.”

But in the great scheme of things, our trade with Syria is slight.

According to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, relations between New Zealand and Syria “have been limited” and “there are modest levels of bilateral trade, mostly in New Zealand’s favour.”

Syria’s thuggish leaders are unlikely to tremble when our sanctions are imposed, therefore.

Meurant – it might be remembered – was a National MP once upon a time and therefore he was a colleague of your hard-working member for Eketahuna North, although he was never a mate.

Come to think of it, he has more in common with Tame Iti, because Wikipedia reminds us he once ran a private security firm.

Alf – fair to say – expected he would hit it off with Meurant, who had been a detective in the CIB, a member of the Armed Offenders Unit and – during the 1981 South Africa rugby union tour of this country – was second-in-command of the riot group Red Squad.

Meurant gave the impression he was a right-winger (he left National to establish a new party known as Right of Centre which favoured selling government assets and reducing government involvement in business).

But he voted while an MP for gay rights and abortion on demand and – bugger me – was against hanging.

Oh, and he mused on whether cannabis and heroin should be made available through government dispensing stores, to snuff the black market trade.

He did show he hadn’t been drained of all his red blood when he was convicted of common assault and inconsiderate driving after an altercation with a truck driver on the Desert Road.

But Alf would like to see him come up with lots more good reasons to scrap McCully’s plan.

For example, China is our major source of imports and our second biggest export market. Hence it is more economically important than the USA.

And it so happens China was among the countries that vetoed action against Syria.

So how will the Chinese react to any sanctions we might impose without UN approval?

Meurant’s company web-site, by the way, says he has valued contacts in commerce, diplomatic and financial services in Russia, some former Soviet states, Czech Republic, Balkan states, Morocco, Syria, Oman U.A.E., Gibraltar, Channel Islands, Australia and New Zealand.

Trade sanctions at the right time would show those other countries what we think of them, too.

A ban on imports of wombat meat from Australia, for example.

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