PM offers glimpse into corridors of power

By Audrey Young

The Prime Minister has just finished a hard week, including Obama's nuclear summit and a trip to Canada. Political editor Audrey Young gets him to reflect on the personal moments.

How did you feel about being caught up in the middle of an incredible scandal in Canada?

Well, given that it dominated all the questions on the Canadian side [of the press conference], it shows that universally sex sells. I don't even claim to understand it nor could I even understand the question, given that it was in French. But it sounds interesting.

Perhaps Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked for your advice because you sacked a minister, Richard Worth, last year and didn't tell the media why?

It wasn't lost on me that there were similarities.

Did you pass that on to Mr Harper?

I did actually.

Why do you get on so well with Mr Harper?

I think he is a really warm and engaging guy. I know the media give him a hard time for not being but in my experience with him he has been.

He's centre right for start-off and probably his natural instincts would be more right than centre. Whenever I have gone to any international functions we have struck up a personal relationship. We are quite like-minded in a lot of things.

There's a really warm relationship between New Zealand and Canada.

Could you recap some of the more personal moments at the summit?

I had a really good conversation with [Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi. It was the first time I'd met him ... He was very animated, as those European leaders are.

He told me he parks his boat in New Zealand so that was quite interesting, and I invited him down. And I actually think there's chance he might come. He said he wants to come, he's heard great things about it, he's very keen on sailing so who knows?

And why would you invite him?

Well, because it would be great. If his boat [will] be there, why wouldn't he come? He's got a place to stay.

What about others?

The King of Jordan came over and saw me. He has absolutely perfect English. Obviously educated in England, in one of those public schools I'd say.

A very English accent. He said to me he's keen to come to New Zealand. He wants to bring his motorbike and drive down the South Island. He's apparently famous for it. He apparently drives his protection people absolutely crazy.

Did you speak to Good luck Jonathan?

The Acting President of Nigeria ... no. But I spoke to [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel. She invited me to Germany actually. She said she knew Helen Clark well, that she had a good relationship with her and thought it would be good for me to come.

So when these leaders dish out invitations do they really mean it?

She absolutely did mean it. Put it this way, when it has happened to me it is definitely genuine. With [India's Prime Minister Manmohan] Singh when we saw him at Chogm [Commonwealth summit in Trinidad and Tobago] he was quite persistent.

He mentioned it about three times. When I saw Lee [South Korean President Lee Myung Bak], I had a great chat. He's a great guy. What I find is when you have had a bilateral, when you have had a visit or they have come to your country, the relationship is always at a different level.

It is always much more warm and friendly so I think it is really worth investing some time. Obviously you've got to balance that against your domestic schedule.

President Obama gave Lee a big hug. Is he that sort of guy?

He put his arm on me too. All those US Presidents are tactile. Bush was like that too.

That's all about showing who's boss, isn't it?

No I don't think so. I think it's actually the nature of US politics.

What makes a good bilateral?

In the case of the US, having one. Being there! That's honest isn't it? [laughing]. Generally, good chemistry and hopefully some deliverables and a sense of expanding the opportunities for the two countries.

What did you call President Obama and what did he call you?

He always calls me John and he has told me to call him Barack. But I always call him President, Mr President. I think I would [call him Barack] if I was in private with him in a bilateral.

What is your next big overseas mission?

Gallipoli. So in fact April in terms of overseas travel is an extremely busy month for me - it will be the busiest month we have in 2010.

How do you cope with the time difference?

Generally okay but if there is a substantial time difference I will take something to make myself sleep in the first day or two. Yesterday I didn't. I thought I had got acclimatised and was feeling in great shape. But I went to bed at midnight and woke up at 2 and that was it.

So I actually felt a bit jaded yesterday. I can survive on about five hours sleep reasonably comfortably. If I get four ... it's not a major stress but if you're getting two, you feel it.

Do you really like North America?

I do ... partly because I'm extremely familiar here. I spent an awful lot of time when I was in Merrill Lynch in the States. Secondly, it a really vibrant place isn't it?

There's always exciting, different things going on here. Part of the reason we bought the house in Maui [Hawaii] is because we like this part of the world.

Do you have a favourite city in America?

I think probably on balance still New York because of the buzz and vitality. It wouldn't be my favourite place to live but it is probably my favourite place to visit.

Funnily enough I hadn't been to Washington a hell of a lot. I didn't go there very much when I was at Merrill. I went to all the other centres, you know, from Atlanta to New York, a lot to LA and San Fran. But it's just the energy in New York.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 28 Dec 2014 02:34:49 Processing Time: 431ms