US wanted military accords kept quiet

By Audrey Young

Helen Clark. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Helen Clark. Photo / Herald on Sunday

The United States Government quietly approved eight new areas for military co-operation with New Zealand in 2007, confidential diplomatic cables show.

More than 700 pages of cables from the US embassy in Wellington to its masters in Washington, were leaked by WikiLeaks and obtained by the Herald.

The cables give some remarkable insights into the dramatic about-face by the Americans towards New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy between 2005 to 2007.

Their revelations are all the more important because of the US' insistence on no fanfare around closer defence relations.

One of the more recent cables shows the US was anxious that Prime Minister John Key did not have a "media strategy" in place on the US review of the bilateral military relationship - the implication being that the US did not expect him to reveal any details and that he would fob off any questions about it.

The cables reveal that an important informal meeting on progressing the relationship took place in Bangkok in July 2006 where a so-called "matrix" of areas of co-operation was devised.

They don't say who was at the meeting but it is frequently referred to.

Cables also point to the decision by the US Government in 2007 approving eight areas of co-operation between the two countries.

None of the areas of co-operation in themselves were top secret but the fact that such a decision on military co-operation had been made at all would have been more than noteworthy.

The cables show that differing approaches to advances in the relationship became a point of friction in themselves, with Helen Clark eager for press opportunities with visiting dignitaries, and the US preferring to keep as much as possible under the radar - as it did with the military co-operation.

Former Defence Minister Phil Goff did not recall being asked to keep it under wraps by the US.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said yesterday the eight areas were proliferation security initiative; North Korea; Asean regional forum; peace-keeping operations; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; Nato global partnership; Operation Enduring Freedom; and Antarctica co-operation.

The cables reveal that while the embassy had a respect for Clark's intellect and grasp of detail, they had a deep mistrust of her on the nuclear issue.

That mistrust was pretty much reciprocated because the embassy made no bones about wanting New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy changed and encouraged it to become a 2005 election issue.

The turning point came when National told the embassy in 2006 it would not change the policy. The following year President George W. Bush acknowledged in talks with Helen Clark that the US did not expect the policy to change.

The language in the cables varies greatly, depending on which officer has written them. Former deputy chief of mission David Keegan's are measured. But those written by former deputy chief of mission David Burnett are particularly colourful and critical of Helen Clark.

One, written in July 2004, follows comments she made on ABC radio: "PM Clark's statements are about as close and as blunt as she's ever come to confessing something this post has long observed - that the [Government of New Zealand] has convinced itself that naturally friendly but incidental meetings between POTUS [President of the United States] and Clark, together with the inevitably increased mil-mil operations tempo due to NZ's [Operations Enduring Freedom] and Iraq contributions, is proof that Government of NZ policies are wearing down United States Government resolve on the nuclear issue."

One of the cables shows that US ambassador Charles Swindells privately told Clark at a dinner in Auckland that New Zealand's failure to get a free trade agreement underway was linked to its anti-nuclear policy - a link that had always been denied. The cable is headed: "Ambassador Swindells tells it like is to PM Clark."

- NZ Herald

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