NZ-US peace deal sacrificed for votes - cable

By David Fisher, Jonathan Milne

The Herald on Sunday and nzherald.co.nz will exclusively reveal full details of a vast collection of WikiLeaks cables tomorrow. One reveals that the Labour Government sacrificed the best chance in a generation to end the No Nukes stand-off.

The no-nukes stand-off between New Zealand and the United States was almost ended by former Prime Minister Helen Clark - then sacrificed for votes in the 2005 election.

US Embassy cables obtained by WikiLeaks.org suggest a new era of cooperation between the two countries was about to emerge from a meeting between Clark and the US ambassador of the time, Charles Swindells.

The closeness then almost turned into a rift, when Clark's ministers
linked a resurgent National Party with allusions to a mysterious
"American bagman'' and suggestions policy was being written in Washington.

The diplomatic olive branch over our policy was offered on June 8, 2005, just before the election date was announced.

The meeting spanned China's growing power and "the need for a US presence in the Pacific", the cables state.

Swindells said the United States wanted a "quiet and frank" dialogue - with an aide saying the conversations would be "private".

Swindells said the discussion needed to be on issues about which "we did not agree".

"While those issues would include New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation, the discussions might not necessarily result in a change in the legislation or in a return by New Zealand to the ANZUS alliance.

"But we will not know about the possibilities of moving the bilateral relationship forward unless we talk about them."

He said the discussion would find areas where the two countries could increase cooperation.

A US Embassy aide said the no nukes ban "was not necessarily a problem bilaterally since we have never had a pressing need to send any vessels to New Zealand".

Clark was then quoted as saying: "If that's an area of flexibility - of no need for nuclear ships in our area - then that's perhaps an area for us to move forward."

She added: "When I go to APEC, you can't split a hair between the President and myself."

It was frustrating that despite the common ground "the relationship seems to go grumpy" through the anti-nuclear issue, the cables quoted her as saying.

But a month later, relations with the US plunged to new lows after one of Clark's ministers, Trevor Mallard, attacked the National Party by using the imagery of an American big brother drafting National Party policy.

The cables record Mallard's claims that National's "lead bag man ... is an American" and "New Zealanders expect our policies ... to be written in Wellington not Washington".

The Embassy then carpeted foreign affairs minister Phil Goff over the comments, stating that further "false comments'' would force a public response.

The embassy might also call off a visit from a senior US official, the cables warned.

"If Labour wins, its campaign may impact our ability or desire to build
bridges."

Later cables record that the embassy officials believed the attacks over funding, policy and the no nukes policy cost National the election.

Otago University political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards said Clark appeared "remarkably more pragmatic about the New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance'' than public statement showed.

Labour leadership did not regard the anti-nuclear policy as "quite as
sacrosanct as the Labour Party likes to maintain'', he said.

"The only reason that a major shift forward in NZ-US relations failed to materialise under Helen Clark was because the Labour Government wished to utilise the anti-nuclear issue as an electoral weapon against the resurgent National Party under Don Brash.''

Edwards said it was not a flattering image of foreign policy under Labour, which was portrayed as morally driven.

"It seems that the Clark Government's orientation towards the nuclear issue and relations with the US were instead guided in the mid-2000s first by pragmatic trade issues and then by pragmatic electoral issues."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 19 Dec 2014 04:11:48 Processing Time: 1401ms