Cook Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs Tingika Elikana

Cook Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs Tingika Elikana says a referendum would allow its people to decide whether to join the United Nations and separate from New Zealand.

The Cook Islands government has applied for membership with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a first step on the road to becoming a member of the UN.

While the country has maintained diplomatic ties with the UN since the 1990s, it is not currently a member of the UN.

“In the conduct of its foreign affairs the Cook Islands interacts with the international community as a sovereign and independent state, but the country does not have a direct seat at the UN General Assembly,” according to the UN.

Elikana said New Zealand had so far been supportive of its IMF application.

He said the decision to become a UN member would ultimately need to be decided by the general population of the Cook Islands.

“I don’t think short-term elected politicians should decide on that. I think a referendum would need to be run and then we will enter into discussions with New Zealand,” Elikana said.

The Cook Islands is part of the realm of New Zealand, which makes Cook Islanders also New Zealand citizens.

If the Cook Islands joins the United Nations as a separate member to NZ, it would potentially forfeit its citizenship rights under the current treaty which binds the nations.

Opposition leader Tina Browne has criticised the government for making the UN membership a “priority”.

“No I don’t think it is a good idea,” she said, adding “part of it is that I don’t really understand the need to become a member other than having a seat at the UN.”

“This government have been trying for years and it is still trying to make it happen,” she further added.

NZ Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has been approached for comment.