Paper claims MP paved way for apology

By Kevin Taylor

A Jewish newspaper is crediting a low-profile Labour MP with a key role as middleman in solving the diplomatic impasse with Israel over the spy passport scandal - but the Government rubbishes the claim.

During a private visit to Israel in December, Taito Phillip Field - a minister outside Cabinet and ranked 23rd in the Government - secretly met Israeli Foreign Ministry officials, the Australian Jewish News has reported.

But Foreign Minister Phil Goff yesterday denied that Mr Field's role in breaking the diplomatic deadlock was significant.

And he also rubbished the notion that the visit breached Prime Minister Helen Clark's decision last year to suspend high-level visits.

"It wasn't a high-level visit. What he was doing was in a private capacity to see people he knew in Israel and I didn't raise any objection to him going."

Wellington suspended high-level visits to and from Israel last July and last Sunday Helen Clark announced Jerusalem had apologised for the spy scandal.

The sanctions followed the jailing of alleged Israeli agents Uriel Zoshe Kelman and Eli Cara for trying to fraudulently acquire the identity of a man with cerebral palsy.

They were deported in September after serving two months of their six-month prison sentences.

The Australian Jewish News reported that Mr Field - of Samoan-Jewish descent - visited Israel privately at the invitation of former Israeli ambassador to New Zealand Nissan Krupsky.

"While Field's visit eventually turned out to have critical diplomatic significance, it was described as private so as not to be seen as violating the sanctions imposed by Clark.

"Nonetheless, throughout his visit Field served as middleman between the two Governments, maintaining phone contacts with Wellington in order to secure Clark's approval for the start of the Ankara talks."

Mr Field was in Samoa yesterday and could not be contacted and Helen Clark's office said Mr Goff was handling the issue.

But Mr Goff denied talks between the Israelis and the NZ ambassador in Ankara, Turkey, were a direct result of Mr Field's visit.

TAITO PHILLIP FIELD

* Labour MP for Mangere

* Minister outside Cabinet and ranked 23rd, holding associate portfolios in justice, Pacific Island affairs and social development and employment

* New Zealander of Samoan, Cook Island, German, English, Jewish descent

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