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

NZ ready to aid Middle East deal

John Kerry. Photo / AP
John Kerry. Photo / AP

Foreign Minister Murray McCully will tomorrow offer the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, New Zealand's assistance in the event that he can broker a breakthrough agreement between Israel and Palestine on a two-state solution.

Mr Kerry has had an intense focus on the region with three visits there since taking over from Hillary Clinton in February.

Mr McCully is scheduled to have his first formal talks with Mr Kerry at about 5am tomorrow in Washington, where Mr McCully will also attend a biennial conference known as the US-NZ Partnership Forum.

Straight after the talks Mr Kerry is due to head back to the Middle East for a fourth trip and could be on the verge of a breakthrough.

"We are simply saying, 'Look, we are not one of the big players here but we are very happy to find ways in which we can support any process you can ignite over the coming weeks," Mr McCully told the Herald.

He would not say what New Zealand could do, but it has a long track record of being trusted in the Middle East to help keep the peace.

New Zealand has been one of 12 members of the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai for the past 31 years, a group of countries upholding a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

At present 28 New Zealand Defence Force personnel are serving in the MFO.

Mr McCully said New Zealand was currently leading a de-mining project on the West Bank because "both the Israelis and the Palestinians trust us".

It would be apparent soon whether Mr Kerry's efforts would turn to action.

"While [Mr Kerry] has been very careful to position his work as a slow and careful process, we are going to get to a point quite soon where something is either going to happen or not happen on the question of Palestine."

Mr McCully said Mr Kerry was also very focused on environmental issues including oceans and marine protection issues.

Among the other issues the pair would discuss was the joint bid to get a vast protected area in the Ross Sea approved in July at a special meeting of the Commission of the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in Bremerhaven, Germany.

Mr McCully said he and Mr Kerry spoke about it at length in their first conversation, by telephone in March, and Mr McCully had raised it often with counterparts, as he had done recently with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Brussels.

The pair will also discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a trade pact being negotiated among 12 countries including the US and New Zealand.

Neither is the key minister responsible for the deal but it is of huge importance to both countries.

Mr McCully said he was looking forward to establishing a relationship with Mr Kerry. "We had a dream run with Hillary Clinton and all the indications are we are going to be able to pick up that positive element in the relationship and take it forward."

High-profile presence at trade forum

About 300 people are expected to attend the US-NZ Partnership Forum in Washington this week, the first since the last forum in Christchurch was abandoned when the 2011 earthquake struck.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully flew in last night from the Caribbean where he has been campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council. Trade Minister Tim Groser also arrived last night for the event which begins late tonight NZ time.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee had been scheduled to go as well but pulled out at the last minute because of other commitments. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will lead the US presence at the forum and Mr McCully will meet his counterpart, John Kerry, tomorrow at the State Department.

One of the sessions tomorrow features a panel of six former US trade representatives/trade ministers: Charlene Barshefsky, William Brock, Carla Hills, Michael Kantor, Susan Schwab and Clayton Yeutter.

New Zealand business leaders including three knights, Sir Graeme Harrison, Sir William Gallagher and Sir Owen Glenn, will be taking part.

Two former Prime Ministers are involved, Jim Bolger as chairman of the NZ US Council and Mike Moore as New Zealand's ambassador to Washington.

The forum was set up as a vehicle to promote connections at a time when the relationship between New Zealand and the US was still marred by the anti-nuclear rift.

It was an initiative of the NZ US Council and its Washington counterpart, two business-led organisations dedicated to getting a free trade agreement between the countries.

- NZ Herald

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