WikiLeaks cable: PACOM visit to New Zealand

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

February 1, 2006
PACOM visit to New Zealand

source:Embassy Wellington
destination:VZCZCXYZ0328 PP RUEHWEB DE RUEHWL #0086/01 0322025 ZNY




E.O. 12958: D...




E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/24/2013


Classified By: DCM David R. Burnett; Reason 1.4 (A and D)

1. (C) Summary: Admiral Fallon's January 20-21 visit to New
Zealand came at a time of media interest in the bilateral
relationship, sparked by a TV mini-series on the ANZUS
breakup and public release of former Prime Minister David
Lange's private papers (reftel). The Admiral met with Prime
Minister Clark, Defense Minister Goff and Opposition Leader
Don Brash, as well as with Chief of Defense Forces Bruce
Ferguson and other Defence Force (NZDF) officials. He also
toured the Devonport Naval Base and the First New Zealand
Special Air Services Group. He and Prime Minister Clark
talked with local media after their meeting. The meetings
and media coverage of the visit focused welcome attention on
the importance to New Zealand of its defense relationship
with the United States and the need to think strategically
about future cooperation. In his public remarks, Admiral
Fallon gave no ground on the nuclear issue, but made clear
the extent to which the United States was willing to work
with New Zealand on issues of common interest in spite of
that long-standing dispute. He urged New Zealanders to
"challenge some of the perceptions we all take as bedrock,"
in the light of all the changes that have taken place in the
world since the mid-1980s. End Summary.

2. (C) Admiral Fallon's January 20-21 visit to New Zealand
could not have been timed better. The summer holiday season,
a TV mini-series on the ANZUS breakup, and release of former
Prime Minister David Lange's private papers (reftel) created
an appetite for public discussion of the U.S.-NZ
relationship. The visit was hosted by outgoing Chief of
Defence Forces Bruce Ferguson, who is due to retire in April.
Perhaps because of his lame-duck status, Ferguson was much
less guarded in his comments than he has been in the past.
He was particularly critical of the Labour Government's
unwillingness to think creatively about how to restore the
trust and credibility New Zealand has lost by Labour's
handling of the anti-nuclear dispute. He confirmed that new
Defence Minister Phil Goff had been briefed on the negative
impact on the NZDF of the anti-nuclear legislation and the
U.S. Presidential Directive limiting U.S.-NZ military
cooperation, noting in particular increasing difficulty in
working with an Australian military that was regularly
training and exercising with U.S. forces. Ferguson was also
critical of the National Party's unwillingness to address
directly the need to resolve the anti-nuclear dispute as a
long-term national security issue.

3. (C) Defense Minister Phil Goff kicked off the
political-level meetings, welcoming the Admiral, stressing
the importance of the bilateral defense relationship and
pointing to New Zealand's contributions to the War on Terror,
including NZDF deployments to Afghanistan and support for the
Proliferation Security Inititiative (PSI). Admiral Fallon
expressed U.S. appreciation for those contributions, noting
that the NZDF's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan
provided a good general model for future PRTs and its SAS
contingent had worked extremely well with U.S. counterparts.
Goff said the Cabinet would decide by the end of February
whether to extend the PRT beyond September 2006; he did not
comment on further SAS deployments. Goff noted Senator
McCain's comment that New Zealand should think about
replicating its success in Bamiyan by heading a PRT in Iraq.
The Minister said he told McCain that New Zealand was not
averse to doing so once the security situation had
stabilized. (Comment: Embassy believes the Bamiyan PRT will
be extended even though such a relatively large deployment
stretches the NZDF's increasingly limited human resources.
Without it, New Zealand's small,scattered military
contributions elsewhere would not be enough to maintain the
NZDF's access, influence and reputation. If New Zealand were
to engage in Iraq, it would most certainly have to disengage
in Afghanistan. End Comment.)

4. (C) The Admiral said he saw potential to do more with New
Zealand in a rapidly changing region. He urged Goff to look
at how we could move forward, adding that, in his opinion,
Washington was willing to do so, but needed to see signs that
Wellington recognizes the extent to which the world has
changed since the mid-1980s. Admiral Fallon underscored the
importance of trust in bilateral relationships, and called on
the GNZ to think of ways to rebuild the trust lost over the
nuclear issue over the past two decades. He went on to
outline a number of areas of mutual concern. We both need to
encourage China to contribute to the world's stability and to
work toward a cooperative, rather than competitive future, he
said. The U.S. was engaging the Chinese at all levels,
including military-to-military contacts. Another area to
watch was Russia's continued backsliding under President
Putin. Admiral Fallon also lauded New Zealand's efforts to
shore up non-functional island states, adding that Kiwis are
better attuned to those states than is the U.S. and clearly
has an important role to play.

5. (C) The Minister agreed that the Chinese "charm
offensive" in the region had potentially destabilizing
effects, especially on some of the less stable island states.
New Zealand was doing what it could, with Australia and
other partners, to build governance capacity and ensure
long-term stability in the South Pacific. However, money
spent on education, job creation, investment promotion or
health care did not seem to have the same appeal to island
state governments as "big ticket" Chinese-funded projects
like sports facilities. He said the GNZ used every
opportunity to engage the Chinese on this and other issues,
and pointed to the large number of Chinese delegations,
military and otherwise, that New Zealand had hosted over the
past year. He also discussed New Zealand's views on the East
Asia Summit process and disappointment over China's efforts
to sandbag the EAS in favor of the ASEAN 3.

6. (C) On the nuclear issue, Goff said New Zealand's
position was two-fold. The country has no need for nuclear
power and is concerned over the long-term problems associated
with the nuclear power industry. While the Government
understands the science and relative risks of nuclear power,
New Zealand depends heavily on its image as "clean, green and
non-nuclear." He said two-thirds of New Zealanders don't
want nuclear-powered vessels in New Zealand waters. The
second issue is U.S. bullying. There is a widespread
perception among New Zealanders that the U.S. wants to send
nuclear-propelled vessels to New Zealand and is constantly
pressing the Government to make that happen. The Admiral
explained that the U.S. Navy has no operational need to send
any kind of ships to New Zealand. Indeed, the only reason
for doing so would be to exercise with the New Zealand Navy,
at its request. He asked Goff what the GNZ might do to
dispel some of the myths that had grown up around the dispute
over the past 20 years. Goff said the whole issue had become
a political "third rail" which even the opposition National
Party would not touch. The Charge pointed out that, while
the U.S. Government has done its best to address the bully
myth directly and objectively, as soon as we show any
success, someone stirs it up again for domestic political
purposes. The problem is clearly one of New Zealand's own
making and only New Zealand could begin to resolve it.

7. (C) Admiral Fallon and Charge then met briefly with Goff
and Prime Minister Helen Clark, prior to a larger meeting
with the Prime Minister and her staff. Clark began by
apologizing for the inadvertent release to the media of a
highly sensitive intelligence document in former PM Lange's
private papers. She explained that neither the National
Archives nor Cabinet staff had followed prescribed oversight
procedures and said her Government had moved quickly to
remove the document from public scrutiny. The Prime Minister
stressed several times that there was no political motive
behind the release of the document at a time when President
Bush was facing considerable domestic pressure over NSA
activities, and was clearly concerned that the White House
might believe there was. She underscored the importance to
New Zealand of continued intelligence cooperation both as an
area where New Zealand could make a modest contribution and
as a means of enhancing New Zealand's understanding of
rapidly evolving events in the region.

8. (C) The PM noted that this was why the intelligence
relationship had survived the dispute over New Zealand's
anti-nuclear legislation relatively intact. She then gave a
brief overview of where New Zealand is on the nuclear issue,
consistent with the points made by Goff. Admiral Fallon
responded by noting how much the world has changed since the
legislation had been enacted. He explained that the U.S.
Government had periodically looked at its policy response to
the legislation to see if it were still relevant, and
continued to believe that it was, though minor modifications
had been made, such as the restoration of high-level
political contacts. He said that while no one expected New
Zealand to return to ANZUS, there was significant scope for a
broader, deeper strategic relationship between the U.S. and
New Zealand if we could find a way to move beyond the current
impasse over the anti-nuclear legislation. He repeated the
comment he had made to Minister Goff that Washington was
waiting for a sign from New Zealand acknowledging how much
the world has changed since the mid-1980s. The Prime
Minister fell back on the political "third rail" argument.
Charge pointed out again that it was a third rail of the
Government's own making and whenever the USG tried to reduce
the sensitivity of the issue in New Zealand, something always
seemed to happen to stir it up again. The PM replied with an
embarrassed laugh, "Yes, like our election campaign."

9. (C) Staff from both sides then joined in, with Minister
Goff excusing himself to attend a funeral. The Prime
Minister welcomed Admiral Fallon, and repeated Minister
Goff's assessment of the importance of the bilateral defense
relationship to New Zealand. She noted that, despite the
disparity in size and technology between our forces, New
Zealand could still add value to the relationship, especially
in the South Pacific. The Admiral thanked the PM for New
Zealand's contributions to the War on Terror and to regional
stability, especially through its work in the Pacific Islands
Forum. Clark then gave a brief overview of New Zealand's
views on regional security architecture, noting the
multiplication of regional fora. The PM said this was not
necessarily a bad thing. Noting that China and Japan were
both present and polite to one another at the East Asia
Summit and the APEC Summit, in spite of rising public
tensions between the two, Clark opined that this was perhaps
the real utility of having such meetings. The Prime Minister
said she had told her Chinese counterpart that China's
preference for limiting regional security debate to the
ASEAN 3 was foolish in New Zealand's view, but said she
expected Chinese attempts to manipulate or weaken the EAS
would likely continue unabated. She said New Zealand was
increasingly concerned about "unofficial" Chinese activity in
the region, such as rising Chinese criminal activity in Papua
New Guinea, worrying that the perpetrators might have links
with some in the Chinese Government.

10. (C) PM Clark agreed with Admiral Fallon that recent
Russian activity in East Asia had not been helpful. She said
Russia's pressure on Ukraine over natural gas pricing had
raised fears in the region that Russia would "play the energy
card" similarly with China and Japan. In response to the
Admiral's query on New Zealand's priorities in the South
Pacific going forward, the PM said her Government was doing
some strategic thinking on the contribution of primary and
secondary education to economic and political stability in
the Pacific Island States. She expected that New Zealand
would increase its funding of scholarships and other
educational support over the next few years, though she
ruefully admitted that such spending did not have the
immediate impact on current governments that a Chinese-funded
sports stadium might have. Still, said Clark, the long-term
benefits of educational ties and the potential impact on
employment for island youth made the investment worthwhile.

11. (C) Admiral Fallon and Prime Minister Clark then
adjourned to a stand-up meeting with the media, where they
were immediately asked if the nuclear issue had been
discussed. Clark said it had, but the subject had not
dominated the talks. She said there would not be a U.S. ship
visit "anytime soon" but said that did not keep the U.S. and
New Zealand from working together on "many, many other
things." Admiral Fallon acknowledged that the nuclear
dispute had been around for a long time, but said the world
was changing rapidly despite our desire to have things the
way they have been in the past. He said we all have a
different view of security than we might have had back in the
1980s, adding that "the willingness to be open to discussion,
to ...challenge some of the perceptions we all take as
bedrock, might be in our best interests." Asked if he was
indicating a softening of the U.S. attitude toward New
Zealand's nuclear-free stance, the Admiral replied "This
isn't about softening or hardening," and said the purpose of
his visit was to get to know the leadership of New Zealand.
The Admiral stressed the importance of mutual trust in
relationships, playing successfully on a theme raised in
former Ambassador Swindells' farewell speech, Ambassador
McCormick's initial press conference, and a spate of recent
editorials on the need for New Zealand to address the "trust
issue" stemming from New Zealand's handling of the nuclear
issue from the mid-1980s onward.

12. (C) Later that afternoon, Admiral Fallon and Charge met
with National Party leader Don Brash to get his views on the
issues discussed with Goff and Clark. Brash conceded that
the National Party had not done enough to address the nuclear
issue, but said there was little point in doing anything that
would just be undone by the next Labour Government that came
along. However, National was willing to engage in creative
thinking on how to address U.S. concerns over the legislation
and had formed a "ginger group" consisting of key political
operative Murray McCully and former diplomats Tim Groser and
John Hayes to work on how to enhance the bilateral
relationship. Brash was eager to have Emboffs meet with them
for further discussion. Charge said he had had a good meeting
with McCully just prior to the summer holidays, and would
meet with all three MPs later in January. Admiral Fallon
welcomed Brash's openness to discussing the nuclear issue and
its negative impact on the larger relationship. He said
Washington was looking for signs that New Zealand was serious
about closer ties and a more strategic approach to the
relationship. Anything National could do to encourage such
signs would be welcomed. Brash said he was planning a trip
to Washington in April, and hoped he would be able to meet
appropriate Administration officials.

13. (C) Comment: Admiral Fallon's visit added impetus to the
ongoing public debate in New Zealand about what it should do
to move from an ad hoc to a strategic relationship with the
United States. His comments on trust and on the need to
rethink cherished views have played well in the media. They
will no doubt increase public pressure on the Labour
Government to give Washington some sign that it is serious
about taking the relationship forward and addressing the
underlying policy and trust problems that have limited the
relationship for the past two decades. While neither Clark
nor Goff gave any hint of creative thinking on the nuclear
issue, they must deal with a Foreign Minister who has
declared that a closer relationship with Australia and the
U.S. are his top priorities, and a strong opposition party
who is of the same view. Editorial comment on the "pointed
exclusion" of Foreign Minister Winston Peters from the
Admiral's schedule (we suspect the Minister would have been
included if he had really wanted to be) has added to pressure
on the Prime Minister to show publicly that she understands
the importance of the U.S.-NZ relationship. We will do our
best to take advantage of that.

14. (U) Admiral Fallon has cleared this message.


Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 23 May 2017 13:20:22 Processing Time: 764ms