Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

'No plans' for Barack Obama to visit New Zealand

The President is an extremely keen golfer, and has played more than 200 rounds of golf since taking office. Photo / AP
The President is an extremely keen golfer, and has played more than 200 rounds of golf since taking office. Photo / AP

There are no plans in place for Barack Obama to visit New Zealand, the Government says, despite local rumours that he could be lining up a round of golf in Northland.

Duty Minister Michael Woodhouse said "at this stage" there were no current plans for what would be a historic visit.

"The President is always welcome to visit New Zealand, however there are no plans in place for that to happen at this stage."

There have been rumours in the local community near Northland's exclusive Kauri Cliffs golf lodge that Mr Obama could be considering a May visit.

The President will travel to Japan in May for a Group of 7 summit meeting, with likely extra stops during that trip including Vietnam.

The President is an extremely keen golfer, and has played more than 200 rounds of golf since taking office, including during his recent Christmas holiday in Hawaii.

Prime Minister John Key also holidays in Hawaii and in 2014 they played golf together. US Ambassador to New Zealand Mark Gilbert has told the Herald that Mr Key's close relationship with the President could be a factor in getting him to travel to this country.

Mr Gilbert said there was no lack of interest -- Mr Obama had told him personally he would like to travel to this country, but despite the popular belief that a President's mandate waned in his final year, Mr Obama still had "much to get done" in 2016.

"So although the President doesn't have much daylight in his calendar, I'm sure if he can make a visit to New Zealand happen, he would like to."

The ambassador said preparing for a presidential visit was an enormous and complex task, which was often beset by unexpected events.

If Mr Obama were to come to these shores, it would be the first US presidential visit since Bill Clinton's trip for Apec in 1999.

Mr Obama has never visited New Zealand during his seven years as President. His second presidential term comes to an end this year so he is running out of time to make an official visit.

If he did find the time, he would be a popular visitor with Kiwis -- Mr Obama is the person New Zealanders most want to visit New Zealand this year, according to a Herald-DigiPoll survey.

Asked which VIP they would most like to come to these shores, nearly half of respondents chose the US President. Pope Francis won 19 per cent of the vote and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came third with 11.5 per cent.

Asked which location in New Zealand an important visitor like Mr Obama could not miss, more than a third voted for Queenstown.

Abel Tasman National Park, known for its golden beaches and turqouise-coloured water, came second with 25 per cent.

Mr Gilbert said it would be too difficult to pick a single place to take Mr Obama in New Zealand: "I'm sure that wherever these meetings with the President might happen, it will be in a beautiful setting."

In June 2014 after meeting Mr Key at the White House, Mr Obama told reporters he planned to visit New Zealand, "certainly before the end of my presidency", and several months later Mr Key said he thought there was a "better than reasonable chance" that Mr Obama would make it to New Zealand before the end of his presidency.

Mr Obama will spend much of his final year in office travelling, with two trips to Asia, two to Europe and one to Latin America lined up, with a second Latin American trip likely to be added.

Benjamin Rhodes, Mr Obama's deputy national security adviser, told the New York Times last week that the President was focused on "finishing strong" on his foreign policy agenda, "including implementation of the Iran deal, ratification of the TPP, follow-through on the Paris climate change accord and making the Cuba normalisation irreversible".

- NZ Herald

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