Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Drones, spying off agenda

Key says trade main priority of talks with Obama and not issues about surveillance

An RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle sits on a flight line.
An RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle sits on a flight line.

Prime Minister John Key says trade will dominate his talks with US President Barack Obama at the White House next month - and he does not intend to raise the issues of drone strikes or mass surveillance.

Mr Key will travel to the United States for a meeting with President Obama on June 20.

He will also spend time in New York pushing New Zealand's case for its Security Council bid. It is a valuable opportunity just three months before the election. Although Mr Key spent five hours on the golf course in Hawaii with Obama over summer, he said it was important to hold formal meetings at the White House once every term. He said New Zealand was "low maintenance" for the US compared to other countries which sought yearly or six-monthly visits.

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A White House statement said the meeting will cover co-operation on matters from the Trans Tasman Pacific Partnership to military to military co-operation. Mr Key said that did not necessarily mean a visit by a US warship was in the near future.

"That would be a step that the US would have to initiate. They would be free to send a ship here if they wanted to, obviously it would have to meet the conditions I'm required to sign as Prime Minister."

No US warships have visited since the early 1980s anti-nuclear legislation came in. The US refuses to confirm or deny whether ships are nuclear powered or carry nuclear arms. Under the law a New Zealand Prime Minister has to be satisfied ships do not carry such materials.

Mr Key said he would not raise issues of drone strikes or mass surveillance by intelligence agencies. He said New Zealand spy agencies did not conduct mass surveillance of citizens and had much more limited capability to do so. "What he does in his own country is a matter for him. Their rules are quite different from ours and that's because they are the United States. It's a bit different."

The Green Party and Labour leader David Cunliffe have said Mr Key should raise it with Obama. Mr Cunliffe said the involvement of a New Zealander put an added duty of care on the Government to ask appropriate questions about the use of intelligence it supplied to the US. "I would be seeking to clarify whether there were any limits on the purposes for which New Zealand-supplied intelligence could be put, and I would be seeking assurances that activities which pertained to New Zealand-supplied intelligence were compatible with both the rule of New Zealand law and international law."

Mr Key said he was comfortable with what he knew of drone strikes although there were sometimes civilian casualties when operations went wrong.

- NZ Herald

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