Key Points:

The first time I came across Jose Ramos-Horta was in Tau Henare's office, in January or February 1997 and it was one of those encounters I'd rather forget.

Henare, then the NZ First deputy leader, had just been made Minister of Maori Affairs in the first MMP Government his party formed with National.

Ramos-Horta was a global ambassador for the East Timor independence movement. He later became Foreign Minister, then Prime Minister and is now President.

Just a year after being shot in the back by an armed rebel, he is well enough to be here in Wellington today in his first visit to New Zealand as president - and he is en route to address the UN Security Council in New York.

The joint press conference back in 1997 was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Tau's new press secretary at the time, Rueben Wharawhara, instructed the journalists beforehand that they were not to ask any questions about his boss's NZ First colleague Tukuroirangi Morgan and any spending he might have undertaken at Aotearoa Television on undergarments. The story had just broken.

Rueben was politely informed that this was New Zealand, and that while Ministers were at liberty not to answer questions, neither they nor their press secretaries could dictate what questions they would be asked.

At the outset, Henare said he was take questions on the other matter after the presser with Ramos-Horta, which he did.

I remember Ramos-Horta stayed on for the whole thing and watched in complete bemusement at the second press conference about Tuku's underwear.

Ramos-Horta, by then a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was visiting Henare because of the interest the MP had in East Timor. Henare had been part of a cross-party parliamentary visit of the territory which at that stage was under Indonesian rule.

Nick Smith, Roger McClay and Phil Goff had also been part of the trip. It was around that time that New Zealand dropped its position of Indonesian rule being "irreversible".

Henare believes it was exposure like that that helped change the Government's attitude and its willingness to join the UN peace-keeping force in 1999 following the independence vote and its bloody aftermath.

The next time I saw Ramos-Horta was at Tacitolo on the outskirts of Dili on May 20, 2002. I was with 200,000 other people, it was dark, and the aroma of clove cigarettes hung in the air.

It was the independence ceremony which saw the UN flag come down and East Timor's flag - presented by former Falantil guerilla fighters - go up, far too early as it happens.

Ramos-Horta was at his forgiving best in introducing the many world leaders who had come to mark the occasion, including the Indonesian president at the time, Megawati Sukarnoputri, who received the most generously rapturous welcome.

Helen Clark had taken a group over to East Timor. Many of the NGOs and church people who had devoted themselves to the struggle of the East Timorese were on the Air Force flight.

So to were Linda and Charlie Manning, the parents of Private Leonard Manning who was slain while on patrol in East Timor - the first NZ soldier to be killed in combat since the Vietnam War.

President Ramos-Horta announced at a medals ceremony at Premier House today that Pvt Manning will be given a posthumous award.

Ramos-Horta this morning addressed the Institute of International Affairs, putting a more positive take on the progress of his country than would be taken from, for example the International Crisis Group report No Time for Complacency  that was published last week.

And here is the United Nations report on its integrated mission in Timor-Leste for the past six months, which, no doubt, the Security Council will want to discuss with the president later in the week.

The UN report is more positive than the ICG, and credits Ramos-Horta with much of the progress that has been made since the 2006 turmoil between the police and military.

Audrey Young