Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: Ties strong between Key and Obama

Barack Obama meets with John Key in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Photo / AP
Barack Obama meets with John Key in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Photo / AP

President Barack Obama intervened personally to allow the New Zealand Navy to berth at the US naval base at Pearl Harbour instead of the civilian dock during an exercise this month, it emerged after Prime Minister John Key's visit to the White House today.

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Mr Obama told reporters in the Oval Office after their meeting "I'm proud my home state of Hawaii is going to be welcoming a New Zealand ship coming into port for the first time in a couple of decades."

"We're very proud of that. I'm sure you'll get a good welcome when they come."


Mr Obama described the United States' relationship with New Zealand as the best it has been.

Photo / Audrey Young

Mr Key revealed later that Mr Obama had intervened personally.

"The president himself thought it was pretty silly that a New Zealand naval vessel would be parked up at the commercial part of Honolulu Port and on a training exercise with the United States not be in that military facility.

The President himself intervened and had said 'that has to be resolved.'

"It's not a big thing itself but it's a tangible sign of the warmth of the relationship," Mr Key said.

In 2012 New Zealand was invited back to participate in the major naval exercise after a 30-year absence, but was consigned to the civilian docks. This year the Canterbury will be taking part as a fully fledged participant.

Mr Obama described the United States' relationship with New Zealand as the best it has been.

"During my presidency and John's Prime Ministership I think it is fair to say that the US New Zealand relationship has never been stronger."

He said he wanted to visit New Zealand some time in his presidency, which suggests a visit time to coincide with the G20 in Brisbane in November may be too hard.

"I would love to come to New Zealand because I hear it's really nice and I know the people are nice because I've had a chance to meet them," he said.

"We are going to be working with my schedulers to see what I can come up with, if not this year certainly before the end of my presidency [in 2016]."

Mr Obama said that while New Zealand was a small country with a small armed forces, "the co-operation that we have on intelligence issues, New Zealand's excellent effort when it comes to training and participating in peace-keeping operations makes it an invaluable partner."

The top item on their agenda was the Trans Pacific Partnership talks and Mr Obama very specific in laying out a timetable for its completion.

"We discussed a timeline whereby before the end of the year we are able to get a document that can create jobs both in New Zealand and the United States and the other countries that are participating and expand wealth for all parties concerned."

He said he hoped that by the time he saw Mr Key next, in Asia in November, the public would have seen it, the Congress would have been consulted "and we could make a forceful argument to close the deal ."

"But we have got a lot of work to do between now and then."

Mr Key raised with the US Chamber of Commerce this week the possibility of excluding Japan from the TPP in order to achieve a high quality comprehensive deal.

He said today he would prefer Japan stayed and reached a high standard.

Mr Obama said they also talked about the denuclearization of North Korea, and the relationship with China.

"We both agree we welcome China's peaceful rise and at the same time we discussed our very strong view that it is important for us to be able to resolve disputes like maritime disputes in accordance with international law and encourage all parties concerned to maintain a legal framework for resolving issues, as opposed to possible escalation that could have an impact on navigation and commerce."

- NZ Herald

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