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Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Key and Obama: How golf cemented friendship

Mr Key says he was nudged up the White House guest list this year by Mr Obama. Photo / AP
Mr Key says he was nudged up the White House guest list this year by Mr Obama. Photo / AP

Prime Minister John Key's second visit to Washington at the invitation of the White House has seen President Barack Obama up to his neck in managing the United States' response to the crisis in Iraq that threatens wider regional stability.

But that's nothing new.

During Mr Key's first White House visit in 2011, Mr Obama was mired in the debt ceiling crisis with Congress. They did not know each so well then and Mr Obama called him Mr "Keys".

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And last October's Budget crisis saw hundreds of thousands of government workers not paid and prevented Mr Obama from attending Apec in Bali.

Mr Key stepped into the breach for him at a Trans Pacific Partnership meeting, a favour that probably helped Mr Key get an invitation to a lengthy golf game with Mr Obama in Hawaii over summer.

"Five hours on a golf course; it's a way of developing a personal relationship," Mr Key said.

Mr Key says he was nudged up the White House guest list this year by Mr Obama.

"I'm not sure the White House schedulers would necessarily want us up the list but the President did."

Mr Key's talks with the President and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel today and with Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday have given him an inside view of the US thinking on Iraq.

But trade remains the top priority for the two leaders. Advancing a comprehensive Trans Pacific Partnership deal remains the top issue on the leaders' agenda even if it means them agreeing to take more time to do it.

Mr Key yesterday gave a strong message to the US Chamber of Commerce about TPP.

"We could all sign up to a deal, which is not comprehensive, which doesn't see trade access, which is politically palatable but achieves very little and if we do that, we are all wasting our time.

"It takes bit longer to get a better deal, we should do it."

He said the United States' agriculture stood to gain more than New Zealand's.

Mr Key had lunch yesterday with US Trade Representative Mike Froman and came away confident that a comprehensive agreement would be done eventually.

He also met US Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen where he talked about this week's strong growth figures.

Meanwhile, Mr Key said he did not believe Mr Kerry's reference on Thursday to the safety of nuclear power on US naval ships was putting pressure on New Zealand to revisit its anti-nuclear laws.


Read also: NZ foreign policy can depend on the audience

- NZ Herald

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