COMMENT:

The Trump backflip wasn't long in coming: "As I said today and many times before, 'I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people'," @realDonald Trump wrote. "However, I also recognise that to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past — as the world's two largest nuclear powers, we must get along! #HELSINKI2018."

This verbal dexterity should have been deployed earlier — much earlier.

After all, who — other than the many patriotic Americans who are outraged their Great Appeaser puts Vladimir Putin's political comfort above the very real concerns of the US intelligence and justice establishment — would object to such tweets as: "A productive dialogue is not only good for the United States and good for Russia, but it is good for the world. #HELSINKI2018," or, "I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace, than to risk peace in pursuit of politics. #HELSINKI2018," as long as they were accompanied by a substantive protest about Russian interference in the US elections?

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Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters was suitably obtuse, resorting to bastardising the poignant Barbara Streisand song Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered when he said on RNZ "I'm bemused, we're all confused, we're all bewildered" in response to Trump's backing of Russia over his intelligence agencies.

As an aside, this seems to be a mechanism Peters deploys when confronted with questions on thorny international affairs questions.

The classic was at the major foreign policy speech he gave at a conference on the New Zealand-China relationship at Victoria University last year when he said: "Sometimes the West and commentators in the West should have a little more regard to that and the economic outcome for those people, rather than constantly harping on about the romance of 'freedom', or as famous singer Janis Joplin once sang in her song, 'freedom is just another word for nothing else to lose'."

But it is interesting that Peters chooses to use such evocations when dealing with issues relating to the "Great Powers".

On RNZ he went on to say, "I've always been ultra-cautious when it comes to intelligence agencies. We all recall the second Iraq conflict, based on the weapons of mass destruction and the information that the West was fed, by both sadly the US and the UK, only to be proven wrong. That said, I really think that these are extraordinary days. But in the end, they are for the US Congress and the US people to sort out, and they are the only people who can sort them out."

Across the Tasman Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken a different tack.

Donald Trump is an "American patriot", not a traitor to his country, Turnbull told the Miranda Live radio show. In sharp contrast to Peters, Turnbull found the evidence for Russian interference in the US elections "very compelling".

Trump has subsequently been accused of treason by East Coast liberal media following his statement that he trusted Putin ahead of his own intelligence services.

But Turnbull boxed clever by saying he agreed with Putin when he said "you shouldn't trust anybody". "I certainly don't trust President Putin when he said he wasn't responsible for the shooting down of MH17, which was four years ago today," Turnbull told the radio show.

This is the sharpest difference between the Australian and New Zealand responses. Both Turnbull and Peters have a lawyer's verbal dexterity. But Turnbull has been far more upfront in landing a characteristically silky blow on Trump.

Turnbull says he is working to protect Australia's democracy from foreign interference with new laws which have been seen by China an affront to that nation.

New Zealand has yet to go down that route.

Irony abounds, of course. Trump has actually applied heavier sanctions on Russia than his predecessor Barack Obama did.

But that is overshadowed by his "missteps".

It was left to the US director of national intelligence, Dan Coats to correct his boss.

Will Peters burst into the Beatles tune Back in the USSR on his next radio appearance? Or will his inquisitors quote at him Sympathy for the Devil (Rolling Stones) over his lack of clarity on our stance on Russia?