Hillary Clinton praises quake effort

Last updated 20:54 09/11/2010

Hillary Clinton pays tribute

Hillary Clinton at Christchurch Town Hall

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has praised the Christchurch community for its efforts in getting the city back to normal after the earthquake.

Council staff, civil defence workers and emergency service representatives were among an audience of about 500 people invited to listen to Clinton at the Christchurch Town Hall this afternoon.

Clinton shook the hand of Sam Johnson, the student leader who organised groups of volunteers to help in the clean-up effort.

The hour-long public meeting heard questions from a handful of people in the audience including a young student from Rangi Ruru who asked Clinton about the risk of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

Former National government finance minister Ruth Richardson also stood up to ask Clinton how she thought the world would be in her grandchildren's time.

Clinton said it was "a very profound question" which she wished she was smart enough to answer comprehensively.

Clinton opened the meeting with a big "kia ora".

Like her earlier engagement in Wellington, the meeting was unexpectedly brought forward by about half an hour, without explanation.

The meeting brought teachers, academics, students, business people and others to the Christchurch town hall for a once in a lifetime opportunity to ask the secretary questions.

The first question was about Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiations.

Clinton opened the meeting acknowledging the difficulties faced by Christchurch in the wake of the Canterbury earthquake and praised the efforts of local leaders as well as Canterbury University students who used Facebook to gather a volunteer army.

She said the US sent its best wishes and was impressed by how the community responded.

"Americans admire your willingness to step up and do whatever is needed and do it with resilience."

She also used her opening remarks to praise the work of New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan and referred to yesterday's Wellington Declaration, signed by the two governments, as a sign of the US wanting a broader and deeper relationship with New Zealand.

She also referred to the nuclear issue which has stood in the way of warmer relations between the two countries for the past 25 years.

"We don't agree on every issue ... and nuclear issues have divided us but we share a common goal."

Both countries were committed to creating a world without nuclear weapons, and there was an "enormous agenda" ahead of them, she said.

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"New Zealand is highly admired by Americans who are intrigued by what you have built here, who are trying to understand rugby and the great attraction it holds and who are committed to learning more from New Zealand."

CLINTON MEETS SOUTHERLY

It was more more splash down than touch down as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Boeing 757 landed in heavy rain at Christchurch airport.

The blue and white aircraft landed at 12:32pm and ten minutes later the Secretary was on the tarmac being greeted by Mayor Bob Parker, wearing his mayoral chains and a large green tiki. Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was also among the welcoming party.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully, who had travelled to Christchurch with Clinton, was one of the first people off the aircraft.

A number of staff disembarked before Clinton came into view, wearing a black raincoat.

She was quickly ushered into a black limousine. The motorcade of 19 cars and two motorcycles then drove across the road to the Antarctica New Zealand base.

To emphasise the foul weather, one of the umbrellas carried by Clinton's staff blew inside out as Clinton ducked into her vehicle.

At the US Antarctic Centre, Clinton presented a map which features newly named waypoints on the flight points from Christchurch to McMurdo Sound in Antarctica.

The presentation was made during a 20-minute ceremony at the US Antarctic Centre early this afternoon.

The waypoints are named after the dogs and horses used by Antarctic explorers, Roald Amundsen and Robert F. Scott.

The event began with brief remarks from the US government's Antarctic programme representative Arthur Brown and Antarctica New Zealand chairman Rob Fenwick.

"The scientific collaboration between New Zealand and the United States is one of the most important features of the partnership between the two countries," Clinton told the gathering.

Clinton, who was wearing a blue pant suit with a red necklace, praised the efforts of New Zealand and US staff working on the Antarctic programme in Christchurch.

Her brief address had a moment of humour, when she acknowledged Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker.

Referring to his mayoral chains, she asked him what they were called.

Parker responded, "bling".

Clinton replied, "you have excellent bling", which raised hearty laughter throughout the room.

Clinton and her entourage are now on their way to the Christchurch Town Hall where she will address 2000 people.

WREATH LAID IN WELLINGTON

Clinton this morning laid a wreath at the National War Memorial in Wellington after a series of Ministerial talks and the signing of the Wellington Declaration yesterday.

Clinton told reporters she had found this morning's wreath-laying a "really moving ceremony".

With a charm that had some observers recalling her husband former President Bill Clinton, Clinton warmly greeted about a dozen returned servicemen.

World War II veteran and noted academic Sir Frank Holmes said Clinton "knows how to handle a service of this kind".

"She takes it seriously and she has a presence about her," Sir Frank said.

"That's why she is the person she is."

Clinton left a note and her signature in a book at the memorial. Her note said: "With gratitude for your sacrifice. Hillary Rodham Clinton."

WARSHIP VISITS

Clinton says her country's nuclear-powered warships are safe and reliable, and whether they visit here again is something New Zealand has to decide.

US submarines carry nuclear weapons, surface warships don't but most of them are nuclear-powered.

New Zealand's legislation bans nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered ships, and none have come here for nearly 25 years.

Asked about the ship situation during a TV One interview tonight, Clinton replied: "Our ships that are nuclear-powered have proven over time to be very reliable, very safe, and we're proud of their record."

Asked whether she would like navy ships to return to New Zealand's ports, she said: "that's something that is really up to the Government and people of New Zealand."

Clinton said the US would like New Zealand's SAS troops to stay in Afghanistan.

They are due to pull out in March next year, and the Government is considering leaving a smaller contingent there.

"That's a decision for New Zealand," Clinton said.

"They are very highly regarded, they work extremely professionally along with our troops."

- with NZPA

- Stuff

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