Dismantling nuclear test site “a very smart and gracious gesture”

A more conciliatory tone from Donald Trump.

North Korea has announced that they will dismantle Nuclear Test Site this month, ahead of the big Summit Meeting on June 12th. Thank you, a very smart and gracious gesture!

Whether North Korea would have done this with or without Trump’s threats and ridicule this is promising, he may consider negotiating something worthwhile. However he should be cautious about Kim Yong Un’s intent.

But Trump continues his rhetoric against Iran:

Iran’s Military Budget is up more than 40% since the Obama negotiated Nuclear Deal was reached…just another indicator that it was all a big lie. But not anymore!

On it’s own this statement is nonsense. An increased military indicates more military spending, and could have been non-nuclear spending to strengthen their traditional military power in a switch from nuclear.

And have they increased their spending by 40%? I don’t trust any tweeted claim from Trump, he has a history of making things up and making misleading claims.

In fact NY times debunks this claim, saying it just repeats a false claim made by Benjamin Netanyahu: 5 Claims From Trump’s Speech on Iran Deal That Are Misleading or Need Context

The Iran deal was reached in June 2015, but went into effect in early 2016, when the United States and European nations lifted sanctions. Since then, Iran’s military spending has increased by about 30 percent, from $10.8 billion in 2015 to $14.1 billion last year, adjusted for inflation, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The Congressional Research Service has estimated that Iran’s defense budget was about 3 percent of the gross domestic product, or $15 billion, in 2015 and about 4 percent of G.D.P., or $20 billion, in 2018.

Mr. Trump is referring to documents shared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

And a week ago Barack Obama pointed out a huge difference between Iranian and US military spending:

“Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion.”

Politifact: Iran spends $30 billion on defense; U.S. about $600 billion

For the Defense Department alone, the Congressional Budget Office’s summary of the budget bill passed last December shows $520 billion in outlays with another $64 billion (good for two years) to cover overseas contingency operations, such as fighting the Islamic State group. That yields a total of $584 billion.

Laicie Heeley is policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. By Heeley’s tally, after you add in $19 billion for nuclear weapons and $7.5 billion in other departments, the total comes to $621 billion.

But Obama may have been too high on Iran’s military spending.

We found several estimates of Iran’s military spending. The Congressional Research Service said the country spends about 3 percent of its GDP, which translates into about $11 billion. Reuters reported that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani plans to spend 282 trillion rials on defense. At the current exchange rate, that equals about $10 billion. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute database has a similar figure.

The highest estimate we found came from the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, a Washington think tank and advocacy group. It put Iran’s total spending at $17.7 billion in 2013.

Iran may well have increased their military spending over the last few years, in part to fund their support of the government in the Syrian civil war, and in part to build their conventional military strength to build their strengthen after shelving their nuclear weapon development (if they have done this).

Last year Trump bragged about ‘historic’ increases in US military spending, another questionable claim. Trump’s Defense Increase ‘Historic’?

President Donald Trump told the nation’s governors that his first budget would include “a historic increase in defense spending.”

Trump, Feb. 27: This budget will be a public safety and national security budget, very much based on those two with plenty of other things but very strong. And it will include a historic increase in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America at a time we most need it.

But defense experts say that’s not the case.

For fiscal year 2018, Trump has proposed a 9.4 percent increase in the base defense budget, which does not including war funding. But Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan enacted double-digit increases in base defense spending in five years in the 1980s — including a whopping 25 percent increase in fiscal 1981.

On Feb. 27, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Trump’s first proposed budget would contain $603 billion in defense discretionary spending for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1.

An 11% increase to about $600 billion is still a huge increase in military spending.

I am sceptical of claims by Iran, North Korea and Trump.

 

Plan A: threats, sanctions, military attacks – no Plan B

After pulling out of a nuclear accord President Donald Trump has threatened “the strongest sanctions” against Iran, and if they don’t negotiate a new deal then “something will happen”.

The USA has no support in their withdrawal from the international legal agreement, except from Israel who has followed up on the US move they had strongly Trump to take with attacks on Iranian targets in Syria.

Given the volatile history of the Middle East, Iran’s involvement in a number of countries and Russia’s military support of Iran this is a high risk situation.

Reuters: Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria after rocket fire

Israel said it attacked nearly all of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria on Thursday after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time in the most extensive military exchange ever between the two adversaries.

It was the heaviest Israeli barrage in Syria since the 2011 start of the civil war in which Iranians, allied Shi’ite Muslim militias and Russian troops have deployed in support of President Bashar al-Assad. The confrontation came two days after the United States announced its withdrawal, with Israel’s urging, from a nuclear accord with Iran.

The timing doesn’t seem coincidental.

Israel destroyed dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria, as well as Syrian anti-aircraft units that tried unsuccessfully to shoot down Israeli planes, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.

Syrian state media said Israel launched dozens of missiles and hit a radar station, Syrian air defense positions and an ammunition dump, underscoring the risks of a wider escalation involving Iran and its regional allies.

Wider escalation is always a risk in the region.

In the meantime Trump Bets Sanctions Will Force Iran to Bargain. There’s No Plan B.

President Trump said on Wednesday that he expects Iran to continue to comply with the terms of the 2015 deal that limits Tehran’s nuclear program, even as the United States violates it by reimposing what he called “among the strongest sanctions that we’ve ever put on a country.”

Beyond betting that Iran’s leaders will return to the negotiating table, and seek a better deal, once they feel the sanctions’ bite, the president appeared to acknowledge that he has no Plan B for dealing with Tehran.

“Iran will come back and say, ‘We don’t want to negotiate,’” Mr. Trump told reporters. “And of course, they’re going to say that. And if I were in their position, I’d say that, too, for the first couple of months: ‘We’re not going to negotiate.’”

“But they’ll negotiate, or something will happen,” Mr. Trump said. “And hopefully that won’t be the case.”

But Iran are trying to isolate the US and continue to talk with Europe, Russia and China.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said on Tuesday that he had instructed his foreign minister to determine if negotiators from European nations, Russia and China could make up for the economic benefits that Iran would lose after the American withdrawal.

Only then would he decide, Mr. Rouhani said, whether to instruct Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to resume the enrichment of uranium.

After Mr. Trump announced his decision, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany on Tuesday reaffirmed their support for a United Nations Security Council resolution that formally endorsed the accord. The European leaders asserted that the resolution was the applicable international law governing the Iranian nuclear problem — a way of suggesting that the United States is the first country to violate the accord.

They also noted that Mr. Trump’s own intelligence officials — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was serving as C.I.A. director — have said he saw no evidence that Iran had violated the deal.

So Trump not only has to deal with a markedly different position taken by other major world powers, he is at odds with US intelligence – and also some republican politicians.

Even Republicans who had their qualms about the shortcomings of the nuclear deal — especially its “sunset clauses” that gave Iran the right to produce nuclear fuel after 2030 — expressed concern that the White House appeared more interested in scrapping the accord than coming up with a comprehensive way to deal with Tehran.

Few in the Pentagon expect the Iranians to back down. Intelligence analysts expect that Iran will grow more active in Syria and Iraq, in part to make the United States and its allies pay a price.

So Trump is being bold or brash, and there is no way of knowing which way this may now go. It is a much higher risk and more complex situation than with North Korea.

Michael Singh, who worked on Iran issues during George W. Bush’s presidency, wrote in Foreign Affairs:

One of the chief criticisms leveled against former U.S. President Barack Obama by critics of the JCPOA was that he focused on the nuclear issue to the exclusion of all others and that the agreement itself institutionalized this focus by trading comprehensive sanctions relief for Tehran’s restraint solely in the nuclear realm.

Ironically, first by emphasizing the need to fix the agreement, and now in insisting that a new deal be negotiated, Trump risks repeating the error.

A different bad agreement to Obama’s may be the best outcome that Trump achieves.

While the United States has debated the JCPOA, Iran has advanced in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere with little resistance, and prospects for war between Iran and Israel, or Iran and Saudi Arabia, have increased significantly. What Washington really needs is a new Iran policy, not just a nuclear policy – and the will to roll up their sleeves and carry it out.

If Plan A doesn’t work I’m not sure that Trump is a roll his sleeves up type of president.

The star of Donald?

The Trump versus Iran situation is a high risk international play, with Trump having isolated the US from Europe and other allies, apart from Israel, and he is talking big on threats against Iran (who is close to Russia and China).

Who knows what might happen now? No one can do anything but guess and hope.

Perhaps the star of Donald will shine peace on the Middle East. It would be an unprecedented international success.

But it could as easily turn to custard in an already very lumpy region of the world. In distance countries we must hope that it doesn’t become nuclear custard – the level of Trump’s current rhetoric can easily be interpreted as threats of a big bang.

The danger is that one day Trump may paint himself into a corner, and either have to back down bigly, or push a very dangerous button.

We may end up with the mushroom of Donald.

Trump’s ‘tough’ talk raises risks with Iran

Donald Trump, no doubt with confidence after believing his tough talk on North Korea has achieved amazing results, is trying tough talk against Iran as well. But as with North Korea it is a high risk approach, with a real risk of war if things go wrong.

USA Today – Trump: Killing Iran nuclear deal will send ‘right message’ to North Korea ahead of talks

President Trump linked his threats to kill the Iran nuclear agreement with his hopes to strike a deal with North Korea deal on Monday, saying Kim Jong Un should know that the U.S. will walk away if it doesn’t think its partners are committed to compliance.

 “I think it sends the right message,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Again attacking the “horrible” deal with the Obama administration struck with Iran, Trump said that “in seven years that deal will have expired, and Iran is free to go ahead and create nuclear weapons. That’s not acceptable.”

Trump, who faces a May 12 deadline on whether or not to certify the Iran deal, said he is still open to negotiating a new agreement. He also cited claims by the Israeli government that Iran is cheating on the agreement by pursuing nuclear weapons in spite of their pledge not to do so.

“I’m not telling you what I’m doing, but a lot of people think they know,” Trump said. “And, on or before the 12th, we’ll make a decision.”

Trump spoke about Iran and North Korea on the same day he said he may be willing to meet with Kim at the demilitarized zone on the North-South Korea border, with a date to be determined.

In past weeks, Trump and aides have said that both Iran and North Korea should know that they are willing to walk away from any high-level agreement if they do not believe the other side is acting in good faith.

If either Iran or North Korea don’t think Trump is acting in good faith things could work out badly too.

Reuters Commentary: How bullying Iran could backfire for Trump

Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Iran of lying “big time” about its nuclear program. In a theatrical announcement Monday, the Israeli prime minister presented files and CDs that he claimed show Tehran hid secret nuclear plans after signing the multinational 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement.

In response to Netanyahu, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif declared in a tweet: “The boy who can’t stop crying wolf is at it again.” As I carefully documented in my book, Israeli officials have since 1992 continuously attempted to convince the international community that Iran is developing nuclear weapons – all while refusing to discuss its own nuclear capabilities.

The Israeli leader’s PowerPoint presentation has – in a remarkable coincidence – come just ahead of a key deadline for U.S. President Donald Trump to decide on whether to withdraw from the agreement.

Coincidence? I thought it looked like being very deliberately timed.

Past and present Israeli allegations aside, Netanyahu offered no substantive evidence that Iran is violating the JCPOA. Much of his presentation focused on Iran’s nuclear program in the years before it signed the deal; Iranian compliance with the accord has been repeatedly confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and U.S. security and intelligence officials. Regardless, Netanyahu has probably given Trump more impetus to do what he’s wanted to do since his campaign undo the Iran nuclear deal.

While Netanyahu’s play may give Trump encouragement to scrap the Iran deal it is likely to also influence the approach from Iran.

Over the past 15 months, Tehran has accused Trump of failing to live up to U.S. commitments on sanctions relief under the deal by encouraging other countries not to do business with Iran.

Implicit in Trump’s approach is that he can bully and pressure Iran into meeting his demands. However, the track record of U.S.-Iran relations since the 1979 Iranian revolution leaves little room to believe that Iran concedes to pressure.

If Trump withdraws from the JCPOA, he should not do so thinking Iran is vulnerable and in dire straits. Contrary to the perception of some in Washington, Iran’s key economic indicators are strong and growing. Its GDP grew 11 percent last year, average real per capita income is on the rise, and the price per barrel of oil is hovering around $70 and on an upward trajectory. Politically, President Hassan Rouhani seems secure after being re-elected with a significant margin over his nearest rival last May.

Trump would be committing a major strategic miscalculation if he believes that withdrawing from the nuclear deal leaves Iran with no options but to continue abiding by the agreement. Rather, Tehran’s adherence reflects the strength of its commitment to its international commitments and eagerness to build confidence with Europe and other international partners.

If Trump withdraws, Iran could use the deal’s main dispute mechanism to refer U.S. non-compliance to the UN Security Council. That would isolate Washington and needlessly set it on a path of dangerous escalation with Iran. Abrogation of the agreement could also allow Iran to justify ramping up its nuclear program.

Which would be a backfire for Trump.

The end state to Trump’s approach on Iran could very well be war. Such a conflict will not only portend devastating consequences for the United States and Iran, but further destabilize the Middle East as it tries to move on from the scourge of Islamic State.

The staged chanting of ‘Nobel, Nobel’ at a recent ego-stroking public rally in Michigan may have been a bit premature (and bullying the Nobel panel may also backfire).

 If Trump really wants “bigger deals” with Iran, he should build trust by properly implementing the JCPOA, and then engage Iran with respect and not insults.

But Trump thinks that insulting Kim Yong-un has achieved results there – also a premature judgement – so may think it will work everywhere in the world.

It’s a high risk approach that could as easily make things worse rather than better – and it may only need one insult too many against Iran or North Korea or Russia to precipitate something much worse.

Trump seems to think that playing world politics (it can hardly be called diplomacy) is like playing a game show. But it is a lot more complicated than ratings driven win-lose theatrics. It may not be Trump who starts the firing.

 

Middle East escalation – Syria, Russia, USA, Israel, Iran…

Different situations in the Middle East are escalating concurrently. The most prominent is the alleged chemical attack in Syria, and related allegations that the US were responsible for a missile attack (Israel has now been blamed).

BBC: Suspected Syria chemical attack kills scores

At least 70 people have died in a suspected chemical attack in Douma, the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, rescuers and medics say.

Volunteer rescue force the White Helmets tweeted graphic images showing several bodies in basements. It said the deaths were likely to rise.

There has been no independent verification of the reports.

Syria has called the allegations of a chemical attack a “fabrication” – as has its main ally, Russia.

The US state department said Russia – with its “unwavering support” for Syria’s government – “ultimately bears responsibility” for the alleged attacks.

BBC: Syria conflict: Russia says no evidence of Douma chemical attack

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said no evidence has been found of a chemical weapons attack in Syria’s formerly rebel-held town of Douma.

Mr Lavrov said Russian specialists and aid workers had visited the area, which rebel fighters have started leaving under a surrender deal.

 

The claim from Russia – which has intervened militarily in Syria in support of the government – came after videos shot by rescue workers on Saturday showed lifeless bodies of men, women and children with foam at their mouths.

The Syrian-American Medical Society said more than 500 people were brought to medical centres in Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region, near the capital Damascus, with symptoms “indicative of exposure to a chemical agent”, including breathing difficulties, bluish skin, mouth foaming, corneal burns and “the emission of chlorine-like odour”.

Yahoo: ‘I don’t rule anything out’: Mattis on taking action in Syria

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday pointed toward Russia’s role in a suspected poison gas attack on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma, and said he would not rule out a military response.

Russia was supposed to guarantee the disposal of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons in September 2013, but President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is suspected of conducting repeated gas attacks since then.

“The first thing we have to look at is why are chemical weapons still being used at all when Russia was the framework guarantor of removing all the chemical weapons,” Mattis said at the Pentagon in a meeting with his Qatari counterpart.

“Working with our allies and our partners from NATO to Qatar and elsewhere, we are going to address this issue … I don’t rule out anything right now.”

Syria has been accused multiple times of using toxic weapons including sarin gas in the country’s seven-year war, which has killed more than 350,000 people.

Backed by Moscow, Assad has waged a seven-week assault on Ghouta that has killed more than 1,700 civilians and left Islamist rebels cornered in their last holdout of Douma, Ghouta’s largest town.

NY Times: Trump to Decide Soon Whether to Retaliate for ‘Barbaric Act’ in Syria

President Trump on Monday denounced the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Syria over the weekend as a “barbaric act,” and said he will make a decision in the next 24 to 48 hours about whether to retaliate militarily as he did to a similar assault last year.

“We’re talking about humanity and it can’t be allowed to happen,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the start of a cabinet meeting at which he suggested that a response would be forthcoming soon. “We’ll be making that decision very quickly, probably by the end of today. We cannot allow atrocities like that.”

Calling the attack “heinous” and “atrocious,” the president suggested that Syria’s patrons in Russia and Iran may also be responsible, and seemed to imply that he would take action of some sort to punish them as well.

“If it’s Russia, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out and we’ll know the answers quite soon,” he said. “So we’re looking at that very strongly and very seriously.”

Asked if President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, with whom Mr. Trump has sought to forge a friendship, bears responsibility, the president said: “He may and if he does it’s going to be very tough, very tough. Everybody’s going to pay a price. He will, everybody will.”

Big threats again from Trump, that are likely to escalate things further, especially if the US takes retaliatory action.

And Israel may also be involved. RCP:  Israel Blamed for Missile Strike in Syria; 14 Reported Dead

Russia and the Syrian military blamed Israel for a pre-dawn missile attack Monday on a major air base in central Syria, saying Israeli fighter jets launched the missiles from Lebanon’s air space. A war-monitoring group said the airstrikes killed 14 people, including Iranians active in Syria.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said two Israeli aircraft targeted the T4 air base in Homs province, firing eight missiles.

Israel’s foreign ministry had no comment when asked about the accusations.

Since 2012, Israel has struck inside Syria more than 100 times, mostly targeting suspected weapons’ convoys destined for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Syrian government forces.

Back in Israel: Israel Strikes Hamas Target in Gaza in Response to Border Infiltration Attempt

The IDF attacked a military compound belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip early Monday morning, the Israeli army reported.

The attack was carried out in response to the attempted infiltration by Hamas with an improvised explosive device on Sunday.

In a statement Monday morning, the IDF said that they view Hamas’ attempts to turn the border fence into a combat zone and destroy Israel’s security and defense infrastructures with “great severity.”

And Iran is also in the fray: Iran Threatens to Restart Nuke Enrichment Program in Matter of Days

Iranian leaders are threatening to restart the country’s contested nuclear enrichment program in just a matter of days as the Trump administration and European allies scramble to address a range of flaws in the landmark nuclear accord ahead of a May deadline that could see the United States walk away from the accord, according to regional reports and administration insiders.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization disclosed on Sunday that the Islamic Republic has maintained the ability to restart the full-scale enrichment of uranium—the key component in a nuclear weapon that was supposed to be removed from Iran as part of the nuclear agreement—in just four days.

The disclosure has roiled Trump administration insiders and nuclear experts who have been warning for months that Iran never fully disclosed the nature of its nuclear weapons work and progress as international leaders struggle to fix the deal by May, according to those who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon about the situation.

The UN is due to discuss the Syrian situation, but that is just reactive to am escalating situation and unlikely to do much – as usual. Both the US and Russia have veto rights at the UN which renders the international body fairly useless when both the major powers are at odds.

Ghahraman on Iran

New Zealand MP Golriz Gharaman on the protests in Iran:

I hope desperately for democracy & human rights, including equality for women & minorities in Iran. While I 💚 the all the support from around the world, I hope for minimal outside interference. Comment by outsider politicians, including me, is unhelpful to the movement.

More on Iranian protests

The Iranian government has claimed ‘sedition’ is defeated, while the US openly promotes the protests, with President Trump tweeting “Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!”

RNZ – Iran protests: General declares ‘sedition’ defeated

The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has declared the defeat of the “sedition” in the country, referring to a wave of anti-government protests.

Maj Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari made the announcement as tens of thousands of people attended pro-government rallies called to counter the unrest.

Gen Jafari said: “Today, we can say that this is the end of the 96 sedition,” referring to the current year – 1396 – in the Persian calendar.

He said “security preparedness and people’s vigilance” had led to the defeat of “enemies” and that the Guards had only intervened in a “limited” way in three provinces.

He added: “There were a maximum of 1,500 people in each place and the number of troublemakers did not exceed 15,000 people nationwide.”

The “enemies” had tried to pose “cultural, economic and security threats against Islamic Iran”, he said.

The general blamed anti-revolutionary agents, pro-monarchists and forces which he said had been “announced by [US-ex Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton to create riot, anarchy, insecurity and intrigue in Iran”.

Clinton still gets blamed for a lot of things in the US, but I’d be surprised if she created the Iranian protests.

And there were also counter protests.

State television broadcast some of the pro-government rallies live.

Some marchers carried Iranian flags and images of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In the city of Qom, marchers chanted “death to American mercenaries”. Chants elsewhere included “the blood in our veins is a gift to our leader” and “the seditionist rioters should be executed”.

It could get messy – if not suppressed, which could also be messy.

I wouldn’t rely on the right sort of support at thee right time from the US – history is littered with rebellions being left in the lurch after prior promises – Trump will do what he thinks is best for him and perhaps for the US.

On Tuesday, US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley branded as “complete nonsense” Iran’s suggestion that external enemies were fomenting the unrest.

She said: “The people of Iran are crying out for freedom. All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause.”

That’s as hard core propaganda as from the Iranian government.

While the US tries to stir things up in Iran:

Iran protests

The Middle East doesn’t seem to be quite sorted out yet. Iran has experienced the largest internal protests since 2009, and Donald Trump and Israel are taking the opportunity to try and stir things up.

Are Trump’s tweets helping or hurting?

The consensus from experts: US President Donald Trump’s tweets about the situation are not helpful.
Rather, they say, the world should show solidarity with the Iranian people by supporting freedom of expression.
That’s not something Trump has been good at supporting in the US, with his attacks on media and on sports people protesting.

Looks typically very messy and a long way from a lasting solution.

Maiden speech – Golriz Ghahraman

A big maiden speech from Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, with strong references to immigration and patriotism and refugees.

She talks of hardships involving war that most of us who have always lived in New Zealand have very fortunately not had to experience or suffer.

My parents.

Both strong, Iranian feminists. You lost everything. You lost your friends, your family, your professions and your language, because you weren’t willing to raise a little girl in oppression.

Thank you.

Closing comments:

Mr Speaker.

I stand here as a child of revolutionaries, as a child asylum seeker, as a international human rights lawyer, as an activist, and as a Green, and my standing here proves New Zealand is a place where a nine-year-old asylum seeker, a refugee, a girl from the Middle East can grow up to one day enter Parliament.

It proves the strength and the goodness of New Zealand’s values.

We all should be grateful and proud that Golriz can become an MP in New Zealand, and speak openly and passionately about her past and about her passion to bring about positive change.

Full draft transcript:


Mr Speaker, I congratulate you, and I look forward to your guidance in this House. I acknowledge also that we stand on land that was neve ceded, so I have acknowledged tangata whenua.

I begin by acknowledging what a breathtaking honour it is to sit among this Green caucus. It’s a dream. I also acknowledge those who’ve sat among you before now, in particular Catherine Delahunty and Keith Locke—you spoke to injustice wherever it happened, and, to someone like me, that meant a lot. Mojo Mathers, you taught me and us all that we are far more than our labels. And Metiria Turei, for baring your scars to highlight the pain of others, I thank you.

But today I also want to acknowledge those who tell me every day that I don’t belong here, that I should go home where I came from, that I should have been left to die, or that I have no right to criticise any politician in the country or take part in public life, because this isn’t my home. Some of them call for rifles to be loaded—it gets frightening.

I’m numb to it because that actually is the reality for those of us in this country from minority backgrounds if we do stand up and become visible. I want it noted that it’s also the consequence every time someone in this House scapegoats migrants, every time a TV presenter is allowed to ask the Prime Minister when our Governor General is going to look like a Kiwi and sound like a Kiwi and that Prime Minister just laughs, every time we call refugees “the leftovers from terrorist nations” for our political gain. We feel it on the streets; we can’t shed our skin.

Patriotism that seeks to quash dissent and divide us is archaic. It’s dangerous for our democracy. We can’t tolerate that. It’s antithetical to our culture. I love this country, but a love of this country—patriotism—means expecting the very best for her. It means fighting for the country we know is possible. So I criticise leaders who fall short, I protest, and I fight for equality and justice, because that is what loves looks like in public—that’s Dr Cornel West; that’s not me. So today I stand here proud and determined because today is about democracy and equality—values that New Zealand embodies, stands up for so boldly.

I am a child of revolutionaries. My parents faced tanks for democracy, at gunpoint fought for human rights. They faced torture to take back their country’s resource from imperialists, from dictators, and from corrupt corporate interests and put it back in the hands of the people. The Iranian revolution was one of the biggest popular revolutions in modern history. Everyone was out on the street—students, communists, socialists, and Islamists—fighting against inequality.

But their revolution was hijacked, and ultimately my life was shaped by one of the most repressive regimes in modern history. Everyone knew someone that disappeared into a torture chamber for speaking out; everyone knew a woman flogged for disregarding Islamic dress—and that wasn’t our culture, even for those of us who were Muslim. Everyone feared their phones being tapped; that was my childhood.

But it was also just the backdrop to a bloody eight year war we fought against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I remember the bombs and the sirens, running to a basement and just waiting, but mostly I remember kids my age who stopped talking from the shell shock. I still don’t know what happened to them. Then scarcity set in, because America was on Saddam’s side and we were sanctioned. We had to use coupons to buy food. Years later, we realised that the West had backed both sides of that war—sold weapons to both sides.

That is what refugees are made of.

I feel a kinship with first nations people, with tangata whenua, because we too have been alienated from our land and our resources by imperialism—by wars that we did not profit from. We share the same degradation and prejudice; I want us to work closer together. Migrants, refugees, Pasifika people, tangata whenua—we have far more that unites us than that which divides us. I want Te Tiriti o Waitangi to be a living constitutional document in this country, leading policy, even on immigration.

My mum was a child psychologist, but she never worked because she didn’t believe in taking religious exams, especially in a mental health field. My dad was an agricultural engineer who worked on research trying to extract energy from plant sources—Green to the core. So let’s remember that our values exist in all cultures. The Middle East, just like the West, has fierce feminism, environmentalism, Government selling us off to multinationals, and—yes—religious fundamentalism. I want us to amplify the voices in all cultures who speak of democracy and equality above those who would silence them.

When that repression got too scary, my family and I fled. We landed in Auckland Airport and the fear was palpable. I can still feel it now. I was nine years old. We didn’t know what would happen if we were sent back, but we weren’t; we were welcomed here. That warm welcome is my first memory of my homeland. New Zealand recognised our rights and our humanity; that’s what that was, though I didn’t know it then. My second memory is that this country was so green. Those two vivid first impressions are going to lead my work in this House.

I became a lawyer—I never intended to do that, but I wanted to make human rights enforceable. The criminal justice system leads on human rights in our system. The most frightening thing that I’ve seen in about 15 years of being a lawyer all over the world is the sight of a 13-year-old child sitting behind a very large table awaiting his trial for murder at the Auckland High Court. I was part of his defence team. He’d thrown a rock over an overbridge, tragically taking another young life. He was tried as an adult because our system requires it. He suffered from mental illness, as do most people that come through our justice system. He was brown. He was from South Auckland. His family was so poor that they shifted houses every so often just so that they could have electricity for a while. He didn’t have a lot of schooling, because of that, and his Child Youth and Family file was the stuff of nightmares. Our most vulnerable.

The front lines of our justice system is where I learnt about unchecked prejudice. That’s what turned me into a human rights lawyer, and I focused on children’s rights. But it was living in Africa, working on genocide trials for the UN, where I learnt how prejudice turns to atrocity. It starts with dehumanising language in the media. It starts by politicians scapegoating groups, as groups, for social ills—I think that every time I see it happen here. I saw it in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, and when I prosecuted the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia—holding politicians and armies to account for abusing their power, and giving voice to women and minorities, because we are always most viciously attacked by abusers. These experiences have instilled in me a commitment to human rights that I first got as someone who has seen the world without them.

Human rights are universal. We don’t have fewer rights because of our religion, because of where we were born, or because of who we love. We don’t have fewer rights because we had our children out of wedlock, or because we’ve been charged with a crime. We don’t have human rights because we are good, but because we are human—there is no such thing as the deserving poor or the good refugee.

Human rights are indivisible. We have a bundle of rights. We can’t realise one without the others—you can’t say we have a democracy or free speech unless we also have the right to education, and we don’t have the right to education unless the kids we are teaching have food and homes. For too long, for about 10 years now in New Zealand, our very democracy has been undermined because too many of our rights—our economic, our social, and our cultural rights—have been breached. I want to entrench those.

Finally—and of most interest to this House—human rights are enforceable against Governments. These are our obligations. This our mandate to govern. We can’t privatise them away. They are not charity—people don’t have to beg.

I want New Zealand to get back to a culture of expecting this from us, and none of that is inseparable from the environment. Protection of people’s rights and nature’s rights are intrinsically linked. Just ask the people of the Pacific—our neighbours—whose homelands are being drowned out because of waste pollution consumption that they have not participated in or benefited from.

One of the greatest threats to both human and nature’s rights right now is subjugation of our democracy to corporate interests. A rampant market on a finite planet cannot exist. New Zealand must lead by example on this, as we have done before. We’ve stood up against status quo interests on the world stage, and I want us to be that righteous little nation again.

I never intended to run as the first ever refugee MP, but I quickly realised that my face and my story meant so much to so many, so my fear of tokenism dissipated. I had such an outpouring of support from all over New Zealand and the world—even Trump’s America—and I remembered getting notes and emails from my female interns, mostly of minority background, back in the UN, telling me what it meant to them to have someone like them forging that path. Some of them are carrying that mantle right now. I realised then that it was important for that process to have a former victim of governance by repression and mass murder stand up in those courtrooms, which are normally dominated by Western men.

So this is a victory for a nine-year-old asylum seeker. But it’s also a victory for everyone who has ever felt out of place, who has been excluded, or who has been told that she has limits to her dreams.

For getting me here, I thank the voters. You’ve humbled me for ever. You voted for diversity and fairness and nature this election when you voted Green.

I thank our Green activists and our staff, especially our Auckland staff. You worked harder and harder as things got harder this election. You will inspire me for ever. To my campaign team—especially Ron and Daniel, who are up there—and my second, political family, the Chalmers clan, I’m so happy you are here. Your support is life affirming to me.

My parents, both strong Iranian feminists—you lost everything. You lost your friends, your family, your professions, and your language because you weren’t willing to raise a little girl in oppression—thank you.

And to maybe the most political person I know, although a very large, loud white boy—my partner. Thank you for stopping me mid-rant—it seems like a lifetime ago now—when I was lamenting the loss of activism in politics and some of my favourite MPs. I was saying, “Who’s going to be the candidate that will stand up to the GCSB? Who’s going to be the candidate who will be the new Keith Locke?”, and you said, “You will be that candidate.”—and I was. We’re both political, we are both adventurers, but you are also patient. I thank you for that, and for love, but mostly courage, on that day and every day.

I stand here as a child of revolutionaries, as a child asylum seeker, as a international human rights lawyer, as an activist, and as a Green, and my standing here proves New Zealand is a place where a nine-year-old asylum seeker, a refugee, a girl from the Middle East can grow up to one day enter Parliament. It proves the strength and the goodness of New Zealand’s values.

[Authorised Te Reo text to be inserted by the Hansard Office.]

Golriz Ghahraman’s refugee past

New MP Golriz Ghahraman is described on the Green website:

Middle Eastern feminism, Green activism and work in international justice have instilled a deep commitment to defending democracy for the most vulnerable.

Golriz is an Iranian-Kiwi refugee, lucky to escape war and persecution as a child.

At 35 she is also relatively young for an MP, immigrating here from Iran with her family as a 9 year old in 1990.

Golriz is promoted as “the first MP to have entered New Zealand as a refugee”, and this is covered in a profile at The Wireless.

She has become widely known as the first former refugee to run for New Zealand Parliament and, at only 35 years old, has made a name for herself as an Oxford graduate and human rights lawyer, working on high-profile cases such as this recent family carers case.

Ghahraman and her parents came to New Zealand as asylum seekers, as opposed to quota refugees. Where quota refugees often have their status as refugees determined before they reach their destination, asylum seekers must first travel to their destination and go through a legal process in order to be able to gain refugee status.

“Basically,” Ghahraman says, “the standard for refugee status is that you have to prove that you have a well-founded fear of persecution, based on one of the grounds in the Refugee Convention, [some of which are] nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, or political belief. So it’s actually quite limited and the standard is really high in terms of persecution, like, it can’t just be discrimination or something like that, it has to be that you’re facing torture or death or imprisonment.”

It was the “political belief” ground on which Ghahraman’s family sought refugee status. They had been opposed to the regime in a rather vocal way, which had ended up becoming dangerous for the family. Ghahraman tells a story about her mother, who had studied psychology, applying for jobs but refusing to sit the religious exam, and being vocal about it being an unethical requirement for work.

“All I remember growing up is people talking about how we needed to get out, and how our phones were tapped. The repression was really quite real… My parents were in the revolution trying to overturn the previous regime, and then they ended up with this far more oppressive regime.

So it’s kind of a tragic situation having this entire population or generation of people who are really engaged with democracy issues, and then suddenly the lid is really violently put on their movement.”

There have been and are tragic political and social situations all over the world. Accepting victims of them as refugees is something we should welcome and accept in New Zealand, where we are lucky to enjoy political and religious freedoms that billions of people don’t.

Golriz is a welcome (by me) addition to the diversity in New Zealand parliament. It won’t be easy, like any new MP she has a lot to learn. I hope she learns well and does well.