WikiLeaks: US image in NZ 'has been damaged by leaks'

By Audrey Young

Helen Clark says she was formal in her interactions with diplomats. Photo / Greg Bowker
Helen Clark says she was formal in her interactions with diplomats. Photo / Greg Bowker

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark believes the effort the United States has put into improving its relationship with New Zealand in the past few years has been damaged in the eyes of ordinary New Zealanders because the WikiLeaks cables showed "disrespect" for New Zealand's independent foreign policy.

She said the ones authored in particular by former ambassador Charles Swindells and deputy chief of mission David Burnett were "distinctly unpleasant about New Zealand and about the Government, really quite disrespectful, if I can put it that way".

She pointed in particular to the "bizarre cable" characterising New Zealand into two groups, "first world" and the "other worlders".

It seemed to criticise her for keeping defence and intelligence information flows to herself.

"I always understood that if you were minister in charge of intelligence the less you said the better ...

but everything has got this pejorative spin on it," said Helen Clark, who is back in New Zealand for Christmas.

She believes the US image in New Zealand had been damaged in the public's view.

"I think from the point of view of the interested public it is damaging because the undertone of disrespect for New Zealand's independent foreign policy is concerning.

"Professionally you need to be able to respect difference. Why do Kiwis feel this way rather than a nation basically being dismissed as 'other worlders'."

Helen Clark defended the secrecy that surrounded an agreement in 2007 on eight areas of military co-operation with the United States, saying an examination of each of the eight areas would show they were "pretty minimalist".

"I can assure you that a great deal of time and effort went into making sure they were."

While the areas of agreement are not unusual - North Korea; peace-keeping operations; proliferation security initiative; Asean Regional Forum; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; Nato global partnership; Operation Enduring Freedom; and Antarctica co-operation - the first time they were publicly revealed was last week, by Defence Minister Wayne Mapp, after US embassy cables from Wellington referred to them.

Helen Clark said that confidentiality suited both the US and New Zealand and that her priority had been establishing a better relationship with the State Department.

"In officialdom, it soon sort of turns to 'what are the military implications of this?"'

One of the cables had shown that the US embassy and some foreign affairs officials were "grizzling" at the time it had been taking to get sign-off from Helen Clark.

"It was consistent with the fact that we weren't rushing here, that whatever understandings there were had to be pretty carefully thought through.

"We were very concerned as a Government not to give any impression that what we were looking for was any revival of Anzus because we were not, in words of one syllable.

"You needed positions that could be sustained over a long term because one thing I was always advised about the US was that they didn't like stop-go foreign policy. They wouldn't go out on a limb with one government and then have the next one come along and shoot the holes in that."

Helen Clark was critical of her former top policy adviser (and former Immigration Service boss) Mary Anne Thompson for, according to the cables, being a good source of information for the US embassy, saying she had no brief for foreign affairs issues.

Helen Clark said she would have expected the heads of the Department of the PM and Cabinet, Mark Prebble and Maarten Wevers, to have had a lot of direct contact because of their interaction with foreign policy.

"That wouldn't worry me at all. But Mary Anne Thompson never had any brief in these areas, so that does strike me really as not acceptable."

Ms Thompson, since leaving her post as head of the PM's policy advisory group, quit her job as head of the Immigration Service and was fined $10,000 and given 100 hours' community work for falsifying her CV.

While Phil Goff and Winston Peters were foreign ministers under Helen Clark, she took a close interest in the portfolio.

She said the cables suggest some unprofessionalism by officials "when the talking is a nod and wink of disagreement with government policy".

But she said she was very well served by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"The cables are a reminder that whatever you say will be taken down as evidence and used against you at some point. And all I can say is thank goodness I was pretty tight-lipped ... and formal in my interactions with them.

"I was constantly reminding our ministers and MPs, 'Whatever interaction you have with the embassy of another country it will be reported on. Please don't be naive about this. Yes, they are nice to you, they are nice to you for a reason'.

"It's not rocket science, is it? But often people are flattered by attention and they tell them more than they should."

THE 'BIZARRE' CABLE

Summary: Foreign and defence policies in New Zealand are the products of an internal debate between two worlds.

The first world - most military, intelligence, foreign affairs and business professionals, and a handful of politicians - values its relationship with the United States and still sees New Zealand as a United States ally.

The other world - most politicians, media, academics and much of the public - views the United States with suspicion or hostility and sees New Zealand as non-aligned. These worlds meet in the person of Prime Minister [Helen] Clark, who alone controls the defence and intelligence portfolios within Cabinet, and who can always call on the "other-worlders" in the Labour caucus to rein in her long-time rival, Foreign Minister [Phil] Goff.

This matters to the United States, because the Prime Minister uses military and intelligence co-operation with the US - and high-level visits in particular - to give the illusion in some circles in Washington that New Zealand is still an ally, while maintaining as much as possible New Zealand's non-aligned policies and the PM's anti-American image at home.

[The embassy's] ability to bridge the gap between these two worlds and effect needed policy changes requires a clear, consistent message both here and in Washington of [US Government] interests and priorities."

- Charles Swindells, former US ambassador.

- NZ Herald

Your views

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 22 Dec 2014 06:17:23 Processing Time: 451ms