WikiLeaks cable: Demarche on Tokelau and Swains Island

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

This is one of the cables about New Zealand held by Wikileaks.

April 17, 2007

Classified By: DCM David J. Keegan, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: As instructed Reftel, PE Couns met with
Tokelau Administrator David Payton to request that the GNZ
publicly reaffirm that Tokelau does not/not have claim over
any American Samoan island presently administered by the
United States, including Olohega, or Swains Island. Payton
confirmed that New Zealand agrees Tokelau does not have claim
to the island and he promised GNZ would consider the request.
He said that when Tokelau leader Koulouei O'Brien said a
self-governing Tokelau could discuss ownership of Swains with
the United States, he meant to draw attention to the benefits
of self-government, not make a territorial claim. PE Couns
said that even if that were the intent the remarks are
unfortunately impeding Tokelau's efforts to encourage closer
relations with American Samoa. Post recommends that Interior
DAS David Cohen discuss American Samoa's position on this
issue with GNZ officials during his April 30 visit to Wellington.

End Summary.

2. (SBU) On April 17, PE Couns delivered reftel diplomatic note to David Payton, Tokelau Administrator at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). Payton said he would have his legal team look at our request, and anticipated that the lawyers would have no difficulty understanding our concerns. He stressed that Swain's identity is "finished business" to New Zealand, and the GNZ would stand by the

3. (SBU) Payton said that Tokelau's population of 1,500 could not possibly manage the burdens of self-government alone. As part of New Zealand's efforts to nudge Tokelau to self determination, GNZ officials have encouraged Tokelau officials to reach out to the world-wide Tokelauan community (who represent 90% of all Tokelauans) and ask for their support. The GNZ has also recommended Tokelau's leaders
explain the benefits of self government to overseas Tokelauans, who will not be not allowed to participate in the referendum but will strongly influence the voters in Tokelau. O'Brien made his remarks in March while he and other Tokelau leaders were on such an outreach visit to New Zealand. O'Brien later told Payton he meant his comments to
demonstrate to Tokelauans that one benefit of self government would be that the island could discuss its concerns directly with foreign officials rather than through the GNZ. O'Brien said that because Tokelau cannot do this now, it has lost the chance to get certain forms of economic assistance from the EU.

4. (C) PE Couns said that if this were part of Tokelau's
effort to reach out to potential partners it was
unfortunately having the opposite effect, as American Samoan
officials have told USG officials they find O'Brien's
comments troubling. One American Samoan official had
discussed the comments and the draft constitution with the
other two leaders, and found they agreed with American
Samoa's position. Payton confirmed that the other leaders
have been appalled by O'Brien's comments. He asked why the
American Samoan Governor had not raised the Swains issue
during his recent and successful trip to Tokelau. PE Couns
suggested the Samoans had possibly not wanted to embarrass
their hosts. Payton said that during the visit, both sides
had reportedly discussed using Swain's as a starting point
for commerce between American Samoa and Tokelau. He said
that Tokelau's interest in Swains reflected a belief that the
people on Swains are Tokelauan and therefore family. Tokelau
does not want the island as its territory. PE Couns said it
would be helpful for New Zealand to encourage Tokelau to make
this explicit with American Samoan officials and others. She
reminded Payton that increased cooperation in the Pacific
Islands has been a cornerstone of the improving US-NZ

5. (C) Post will continue to follow up on reftel request,
including by double tracking with the Americas desk and
others at MFAT. We also believe it would be helpful if
Insular Affairs DAS Cohen explained American Samoa's views on
Swains when he meets with MFAT officials during his April 30
trip to Wellington.


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