Audrey Young 's Opinion

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

Audrey Young: Visit seals the deal on partnership

The PM was the consummate professional on his first official trip to the White House. Photo / AFP
The PM was the consummate professional on his first official trip to the White House. Photo / AFP

The last time a New Zealand Prime Minister (Helen Clark) visited the White House, John Key - then in Opposition - broke convention to criticise her for not coming away with a free trade agreement. He has learned a lot since that graceless, amateur performance.

Key was the consummate professional on his first official trip, one he had wanted rather badly.

He announced the return of the Marines to New Zealand next year to attend ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of their presence during World War II.

And he ventured to suggest another big symbolic gesture, that the US should think about sending a Coast Guard ship to New Zealand. According to senior officials, that was unexpected.

One of his supposed aims was to get a commitment to the Trans Pacific Partnership - but that was not necessary from a President who is effectively claiming the TPP as his own, and certainly as his top trade priority.

Key did, however, fly the flag for New Zealand and the TPP on Capitol Hill at a time when all anyone is talking about apart from the heat is the debt ceiling crisis.

That crisis will pass and by October, trade will be back on the agenda.

Key's acknowledgement on Saturday of the work of other Prime Ministers after his first meeting with Barack Obama at the White House was fitting.

Clark's visit marked a breakthrough in the relationship: the US accepted that it would not try to change New Zealand's anti-nuclear law and that was the green light for her to agree to a new relationship.

There were improvements under Clark and her Foreign Minister, Winston Peters.

But the present relationship between Governments - officially a strategic partnership - is in a different league.

It has a sense of reality to it as opposed to theory. The air has been cleared and there is a sense of informality that comes only from friendship.

The combination of Democrats and National Party is a natural fit for the times.

Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are intent on ridding America of its bullying and unilateralist image and are less hung up on diplomatic battles of past eras.

In New Zealand the US has found a valuable ally on trade.

Repairing relations with America has always been more important to National, which was distressed over the bust-up of the Anzus security alliance. It is now comfortable in an embrace with the US. Both seem delighted with the new partnership.

- NZ Herald

Audrey Young

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

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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