New Zealand businesses would suffer if the government gave in to threats from the United States over sanctions on dealings with Iran, Iran's ambassador to New Zealand says.
The United States has threatened to impose sanctions on European companies that do business with Iran, as the remaining participants in the Iran nuclear accord stiffened their resolve to keep that agreement operational.
Iran's ambassador to New Zealand Jalaladdin Namini Mianji told Morning Report New Zealand companies would risk losing trade deals if the country adhered to US President Donald Trump's threat of imposing sanctions.
"If the government of New Zealand obeys any sanction against Iran, it is not sanction against Iran it is a sanction against the New Zealand companies," Mr Mianji said.
"Our trade with New Zealand is the importing dairy products from NZ, if they want to impose sanctions then they must ban the companies from exporting the commodities to Iran.
"[New Zealand companies] will lose in this sanction, we can buy, for example butter, from many other countries, that is why it is not in favour of New Zealand, it will not serve the New Zealand companies' interests."
New Zealand exported $120 million of goods to Iran last year, with dairy products making up three-quarters of that. Imports totalled $6.8 million, with dates contributing over half.
White House National Security adviser John Bolton said US sanctions on European companies that maintain business dealings with Iran were "possible".
Bolton struck a hawkish tone with his comments in an interview with CNN's "State of the Union" program.
When asked whether the United States might impose sanctions on European companies that continue to do business with Iran, Bolton told CNN: "It's possible. It depends on the conduct of other governments."
When pressed on the matter further, he said, "I think the Europeans will see that it's in their interest ultimately to come along with us."
However, Mr Mianji said he viewed the solidarity of the EU countries as a promising sign of the union's loyalty to the nuclear agreement and opposition of Mr Trump's sanctions.
"It is not the matter of Iran's nuclear deal, it is the matter of dignity of Europe because President Trump believes in unilateralism; he thinks he's master of the world, he's a business police of the world and he will make a decision and the other countries must obey him," Mr Mianji said.
"Principally, New Zealand must reject [the sanctions] but they declare they're going to obey EU countries, I think they will have the same policy that EU will have in the coming weeks."
Where does New Zealand stand?
After the President Donald Trump announced his withdrawal from the Iran deal, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said his decision was "disappointing".
Minister for trade and export David Parker last week said it was still unclear to the nations who remained in the nuclear agreement what exports or trade were at risk when associating with Iran.
"It's not yet clear to us or to Europe what that means in respect of existing export levels in the eyes of the United States," Mr Parker said.
Representatives in the industry had already expressed their concern about difficulties exporting to Iran, the minister said.
"I heard one of the primary industry representatives postulating that it might mean, if nothing else, that it's more difficult to increase exports to iran who, of course, used to be a much larger trading partner of New Zealand than they are even now," Mr Parker said.
How the world reacted to Trump's withdrawal
US President Donald Trump on May 8 announced that the United States was withdrawing from the 2015 deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
So far, China, France, Russia, Britain, the European Union and Iran remain in the accord, which placed controls on Iran's nuclear program and led to a relaxation of US economic sanctions against Iran and companies doing business there.
Despite the US exit, Britain and Iran expressed their commitment to ensuring that the accord is upheld, according to a statement released by British Prime Minister Theresa May's office.
Bolton said Europe was still digesting Trump's May 8 move.
"I think at the moment there's some feeling in Europe - they're really surprised we got out of it, really surprised at the reimposition of strict sanctions. I think that will sink in; we'll see what happens then," Bolton said.
Germany said it will spend the next few months trying to persuade Washington to change its mind.
Germany's minister for economic affairs Peter Altmaier said last week that Berlin will try to "persuade the US government to change its behaviour."
In an interview with ZDF public television, Altmaier noted the United States has set a 90-day deadline for foreign firms to comply with the return of sanctions and that this period can be used to convince Washington to change course.
However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he remained hopeful Washington and its allies could strike a new nuclear deal with Tehran
Pompeo said he was "hopeful in the days and weeks ahead we can come up with a deal that really works, that really protects the world from Iranian bad behaviour, not just their nuclear program, but their missiles and their malign behaviour as well."
- Reuters / RNZ