The New Zealand parliament remains spilt over a US-led invasion against Iraq with NZ First joining the Government in opposition to military intervention without a United Nations resolution.
In an emergency parliamentary debate on Tuesday, the National and Act parties expressed support for military action to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
But speaking first, Prime Minister Helen Clark emphasised the Government's position, stated in front of the UN Security Council in February, that military force against Iraq should be a last resort.
She said the Government supports the disarmament of Iraq but disagrees over the method and does not support a US-led invasion which could begin as soon as Thursday afternoon following a US ultimatum.
President George W Bush on Tuesday gave Saddam Hussein and his sons 48 hours to leave Iraq in exile or face military action at a time to be determined by the US.
Over 250,000 US and UK military personnel currently surround the Middle Eastern nation.
Clark said the Government does not believe the international diplomatic process, severely hampered by France's threat to veto a second UN resolution, has run its course and warns any invasion could set a dangerous international precedent.
National Party leader Bill English stated vehemently that it is "in the interests of global peace and New Zealand to see Iraq decisively disarmed".
He said New Zealand should support a "coalition of the willing", those countries backing the removal of the Iraqi leader by force.
An invasion, English said, will see the US retain its credibility as world policeman and he said it will be called on to play that role in the future.
He said the withdrawal of US and UK troops from the region would hand victory to Hussein and that the world now faced a choice between bad and worse options.
Citing the safety and security of the New Zealand people as the first priority, NZ First leader Winston Peters said he was prepared to support a US invasion for humanitarian reasons, but only if it was a decision sanctioned by the UN.
Calling the UN a "toothless tiger" and Hussein an "evil despot and dictator", Peters called for the strengthening of New Zealand's border controls against what he described as a growing terrorist threat.
Act leader Richard Prebble said New Zealand should be directly involved in any military action.
"Act believes New Zealand should join... the nations prepared to take military action to enforce Resolution 1441."
He said the UN had been shown to be nothing more than an "empty debating chamber" and that "shamefully, for the first time in our (New Zealand's) history, we are not taking a stand against fascism".
Earlier on Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister John Howard pleged military support to the US in the event of invasion. Australia currently has 2,000 troops in the Persian Gulf.
The Green Party stood firm against any action against Iraq. Foreign affairs spokesperson Keith Locke decried any war as unjust and said it would be an attack against the UN itself.
Parliament voted on an Act motion to support the US. It was lost by 35 votes to 84.