Foreign Minister Murray McCully has spent much of the last week chairing the United Nations Security Council in New York through debates on the Iran nuclear deal, the downing of MH17 passenger airline and today's debate on the world's small island developing states, a signature event for the first of New Zealand's two years on the council.
Political editor Audrey Young sat down with him in New York to reflect on his job and his latest experience.
Q. No one would have ever thought of you as a foreign affairs guru but you're a wheeler-dealer politician and a long-time party strategist. But do you think you were born to this job, given that diplomacy can be quite gutsy stuff, not just cocktails and canapés.
A. I think it should be gutsy stuff. If you are not doing things, if you're not changing things, there's no point in being there. And that's the approach we've tried to bring. The thing that I hadn't understood about the job is the extent to which it takes you out of domestic politics, and so you actually become quite immersed in the foreign policy stuff. You don't have much space for the domestic political activities you might have spent most of your career on. It does become fairly absorbing.
Q. You once said you'd rather hack off your arm with a rusty screwdriver than become ambassador to the United Nations.
A. I stand by it. Being here for a few days to do some stuff is okay but this is not my scene.
Q. But you've looked like a pig in muck.
A. I enjoy my job, there's no question about that. We are there to get some runs on the board but I would not be any good in an ambassador's role. We have some very good ones and I've got a reasonable understanding of what it takes.
The news media in New Zealand unfortunately spent five years retailing the rumour that I was going to appoint myself to be Permanent Representative in New York. I think I've managed to convince them I'm not going to do that.
Q. As career highlights go, how does the Security Council rate?
A. For me personally, to have been part of a successful UN Security Council campaign in a highlight and to then come back and perform some of the presidential duties, obviously is a highlight. But I am also very focused on this being a two-year term on the council with another presidency in September next year, which the Prime Minister will have the opportunity to lead. So we are not going to go to sleep at the wheel.
Q. Do you think the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) debate has enhanced New Zealand's reputation among SIDS?
A. Yes, I do. I think our reputation was already pretty good. We have worked pretty hard in that space, in terms of our development participation. We spend 60 per cent of our development budget in the Pacific focused on small developing states issues but we've started to expand that work so that we are transporting the lessons we have learnt in the Pacific to other small island developing states regional grouping, like the Caribbean and Indian Ocean in particular. It's just a really efficient thing to do. If you've got good at something, if you've got skills or insights, to make them available somewhere else.
Many of them told me they came to the small island developing states meeting in Samoa [in 2014] and for the first time got a sense of how much New Zealand was integrated into the Pacific in a way that most countries that have that simple geographical proximity aren't. So I think we are in a good space but certainly the hosting of this debate has sent another significant message of New Zealand's interest, which I think does give us a special partnership with these countries.
Q. Has it made the larger countries have to think more about small island states?
A. Hell, yes.
What I discovered is that I am continuously asked by countries campaigning for the Security Council or some other elected office whether we would put in a good word for them with our Pacific friends or how to go about campaigning among the small island developing states. There is no doubt that there is a very heightened consciousness of the size of the SIDS grouping in the UN body as an electoral group.
One of things I have tried to do is also encourage the three big groupings, the Caribbeans, the Indian Ocean Commission and the Pacific Island Forum to have more formal linkages and more formal exchanges. That will start to reinforce the sense that this is group to take seriously in multilateral land.
Q. You've got a special interest in the Middle East Peace Process. Has that figured at all in the side chats this week?
A. A lot. There's something of a groundswell of opinion, particularly in Europe but elsewhere, that we simply have to find some ways of moving this forward, post the Iran nuclear dust settling. We know there's a window but we're not there yet. I had the side trip to Washington where John Kerry and I spent quite a lot of time talking about this. The Security Council in my view will have a role in this area.
As we saw in December of last year, when a resolution came forward that was defeated, you've got to be judicious about choosing your timing and you've got to be careful what your content is. I think there's actually quite a strong desire to simply reaffirm the two-state solution in view of what's going on there at the moment. One of the comments the special co-ordinator made in his briefing to the council was that there was a loss of confidence in the two-state solution in the region and we badly need to do something about that.
Q. You know you are mocked about wanting to advance peace in Middle East?
Yes I do. I have actually been very careful and measured about what I have said but people deliver their own shorthand on it. But there's not point being on the Security Council if you are not going to try and make something happen and actually, there has been a risk that no one would do anything in that space.
If nothing else, talking about it has made people understand something is going to happen.