Bush praises NZ's Pacific role

By Ian Llewellyn

Helen Clark said after her meeting with George Bush at the White House today that the talks came at a time when the United States valued friends like New Zealand.

The American president praised the Prime Minister's leadership role in the Pacific and promised help in regional trouble spots.

Miss Clark later noted that the atmosphere in Washington was very different to her last visit, which came just six months after the September 11 attacks.

Five years later, the balance of power in the Congress had changed and there was partisan debate in Washington, she told Radio New Zealand.

Miss Clark said: "From both sides there's been that effort going on and I think there is quite an acute appreciation in Washington DC of the things New Zealand does which are very much in tune with US values, the role we play in the Pacific, the way we've dealt with counter-terrorism issues, the strong support on counter-proliferation.

"I think it's a time when friends are valued in Washington."

Speaking after the formal 30-minute White House meeting with Miss Clark today, President Bush said their talks had been constructive and covered a wide range of issues.

"We talked about the South Pacific, and I praised the prime minister on her leadership in these difficult issues," President Bush said.

He told reporters he understood that countries in the region needed New Zealand's leadership, with US and Australian assistance.

The US would help "in any way we can," he said.

It was Miss Clark's second formal meeting with President Bush since she became prime minister, although they have met nine times on other occasions.

The talks in the Oval Office marked the development of a closer relationship between New Zealand and the US, and it was only the third time a New Zealand prime minister has visited the White House in 24 years.

President Bush described Miss Clark as "a straightforward, honest woman" who he always enjoyed meeting.

He said their talks had covered North Korea and Iran, and just before the meeting Miss Clark announced New Zealand would be contributing to an energy assistance package for North Korea.

President Bush made no mention of the nuclear stand-off and the ban on US troops training with New Zealanders, instead emphasising the co-operation that existed in other areas.

He said he had thanked Miss Clark for New Zealand's commitment to the international force in Afghanistan.

Miss Clark, who had lunch with President Bush in the White House after the meeting, said their talks had been constructive.

Although President Bush did not mention trade when he spoke to reporters, Miss Clark said she had raised the issue of a free trade agreement (FTA) between New Zealand and the US.

Miss Clark said before she left Wellington that she was not expecting significant progress on an FTA, but she has been pushing the issue in her meetings in Washington.

- NZPA

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