Leaked cables from the United States Embassy in Wellington show that Labour and National Governments agreed to US demands for secrecy around specific improvements to the defence and intelligence relationship.

They also show that before the 2008 election the embassy thought a National Government would be better for US-NZ relations than the Labour incumbents.

But none of the New Zealand WikiLeaks cables so far contain anything like the political embarrassment the release of Australian-related cables caused last week.

The worst that is said about Prime Minister John Key is that his practical agenda is "fuzzy" but that reference to him was written soon after becoming National leader and before he won office in 2008.

One of the cables written this year says he has a "personal pro-American outlook" and that he had been "openly excited" about having been invited to President Barack Obama's nuclear security conference in Washington in March. Mr Key said it was the Government's longstanding practice not to comment on intelligence matters.

The first batch of the NZ cables, released to the Sunday Star Times, is mostly sourced in the time of the Helen Clark-led Labour Government and they are mainly glowing in their appraisal of her and believe she genuinely wanted improvement in the relationship.

They indicate concern that the Labour Government was slow at embracing a new defence relationship proposed in 2007. Eventually approval came through, though even that was agreed to be kept under wraps.

The so-called Wellington Declaration, a symbolic partnership agreement signed when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited in November, appears to put paid to continued secrecy around an elevation in the security relationship.

But that agreement was proposed during the year and after her original visit in January was postponed.

Just days before her trip was cancelled (owing to the Haiti earthquake) she was advised to offer a "no comment" to media on her visit here when asked about intelligence restoration - though they encouraged her to raise it privately with Key.

That advice was offered despite the fact that Mrs Clinton had inadvertently already announced resumption of intelligence sharing in October last year, at a press conference in Washington.

About 1500 of the 250,000 diplomatic cables from US missions around the world and the US State Department obtained by WikiLeaks are from the Wellington-based embassy.

Most of the cables from the embassy were written in preparation for high-level visits, by Mrs Clinton to New Zealand and for the visit by Helen Clark to Washington in April 2007. They have not been released on to the WikiLeaks website but some were obtained by the Sunday Star Times.

Full intelligence sharing did not take place until August last year.

It is understood that both countries agreed at that point to keep the full restoration under wraps but that agreement was breached by Mrs Clinton herself in October last year.

At a press conference in Washington with Foreign Minister Murray McCully, Mrs Clinton then referred to the restoration. Her own officials warned her three months later not to speak openly about it again.

The US requirement for secrecy about details of its improving relationship goes way back. One cable written in 2006 while National was in the midst of hardening its anti-nuclear policy says "we also continue to believe a National Government would be better able to rebuild much of the trust that has eroded US-NZ relations over the past years".

The cables also refer to claims by Labour that former National leader Don Brash told a group of visiting Congressmen that the anti-nuclear policy would be "gone by lunchtime" as "deliberately misleading".

Americans get personal with views on New Zealand's leaders:

Some observers claim Clark only wants to mend fences with the United States to wrest centre ground from the opposition National Party, which is gaining in the polls. We doubt this is her main motive. For one thing, polling suggests up to half of all Kiwis believe New Zealand does not need a closer relationship with the United States, and the anti-American sentiment in the left side of her own caucus is well known. Although Labour is losing ground in opinion polls, Clark is far from being in such crisis that she needs to change her foreign policy to get votes. New National leader John Key is charming and confident, but has been in Parliament for only five years and his practical agenda remains fuzzy. In contrast, while many Kiwis consider Clark cold and some question her integrity, we have yet to meet any who regard her as anything less than competent. The majority seem proud of the way she has helped forge a new, modern identity for the country: clean, green, multicultural, multilateral, creative, and yes - nuclear free. Nor is there a chance of the type of leadership putsch within Labour that has plagued National in recent years.

- by Deputy Chief of Mission David Keegan as Prime Minister Helen Clark prepared for her visit to Washington in March 2007


Although Clark is often viewed as cold and somewhat remote to the aspirations of families - she has no children - Clark and husband Peter Davis have a close bond. Furthermore, she is very close to her parents, sisters and their children and often holidays with them. Her physical appearance is often mocked as dowdy and drab, despite periodic efforts, especially at election time, to inject some glamour into her looks. Clark does not appear to take such mockery to heart and appears to succumb to such "extreme makeovers" only at the behest of her image gurus. But by and large, she gives the impression that she is very comfortable in her own skin and is more interested in substance over style.

- by Charge d'Affaires David Burnett

An analysis of Brash's core self is by no means a linear exercise. He is somewhat of a paradox. Although a classical liberal, free marketer and economic rationalist, he voted for the bill that decriminalised prostitution. He is divorced and remarried; in fact he cheated on his first wife. Brash's residual Presbyterianism is of the liberal variety, not the stern Scottish brand. And his "Christian socialism", which defined his formative years and is a holdover from his father's politics, lingers in a residual social conscience. Rather than a "no" or even "minimal" government advocate, he is a "limited" government man. The government, he has declared, "has a vital role, including funding education and providing a social safety net".

- by former Charge d'Affaires David Burnett