By AUDREY YOUNG political reporter

Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday dismissed former United States Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun as a pecan farmer from Alabama.

The terse remark was reminiscent of the sneering reference in 1977 by former Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon, who described US President Jimmy Carter as just a peanut farmer from Georgia.

And it was a far cry from the fond farewell between the women at a farewell party for the ex-ambassador this year.


Jimmy Carter's apparent crime was that he was a Democrat.

Carol Moseley Braun's was that she has been challenging Helen Clark's assessment that New Zealand exists in a "benign strategic environment".

That was the line the PM used to justify scrapping the combat wing of the Air Force - in May this year.

And National has been force-feeding it back to Helen Clark in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

Neither the former nor the new ambassador, Charles Swindells, accepts the "benign" assessment.

No country can afford to be complacent with security, Mr Swindells told reporters in his first interview.

Ms Moseley Braun had said at the weekend from America, where she is dividing time between Chicago and her family pecan farm in Alabama: "The world is so inter-related that no one can luxuriate in a sense of isolation."

Helen Clark referred her former friend and Opposition MPs to a report by the External Assessments Bureau entitled Strategic Assessment 2001.

And the relevant quote is: "New Zealand is not directly threatened by any other country ... " [Its only reference to the word "benign" is to describe our prosperous neighbours, Australia.]

" ... I chose the strategic assessment of the New Zealand External Assessment Bureau over that of Ms Moseley Braun, now a pecan farmer in Alabama," she said.

Strangely, evidence for Helen Clark's view emerged on Monday from an unexpected quarter.

The Taleban hierarchy, clearly unmoved by NZ's offer to the US of SAS help in Afghanistan, suggested they had never heard of the place.

Afghanistan's Deputy Ambassador, Suhail Shaleen, was briefing journalists in Pakistan's Islamabad when a New Zealand reporter asked if NZ would be a target for revenge.

"Where is New Zealand?" was the diplomat's response, according to Independent Radio News reports, before criticising NZ involvement in the US-led coalition.

Helen Clark was as dismissive of the Taleban as she was of Carol Moseley Braun.

"I suspect they still think it is somewhere off the coast of Holland."