17 Feb 2015

Keating to attend anti-IS coalition talks

8:14 am on 17 February 2015

The Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) heads for the Middle East this morning for high-level talks on the Islamic State (IS) threat.

Lieutenant-General Tim Keating will attend two days of talks in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, along with defence leaders from other Western and Middle Eastern nations.

Lieutenant-General Tim Keating.

Lieutenant-General Tim Keating. Photo: NZ Defence Force

The meeting is one of a series being held so coalition defence leaders can discuss the situation regarding IS. He attended a similar meeting in Washington in October.

The New Zealand Government is considering a request from Iraq's foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Ja'afari, to help train his country's troops.

Lieutenant-General Keating said the Government had made no decision about that yet, but it makes sense to be at the meeting in Riyadh.

Robert Ayson, professor of strategic studies at Victoria University, said all signs point to the very strong likelihood Cabinet would make the commitment of training troops.

"It's still possible to say that a decision has not been made in a formal sense, but I think the indications, including that the Chief of Defence Force's participation in this meeting, is that New Zealand sees itself as an active member of the coalition," he told Morning Report.

The Labour Party remains opposed to any deployment of New Zealand troops to train Iraqi soldiers to fight Islamic State.

Party leader Andrew Little told Morning Report more training of the Iraqi army was not going to help.

"That's why the British aren't providing any more training to the Iraqi army," said Mr Little. Iraq's foreign minister had told him the country needed humanitarian assistance.

While in the region, Lieutenant-General Keating will also visit Defence Force personnel involved in the Orion deployment in support of international maritime security operations.

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