PM regrets comment on Israelis

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 05:00 25/07/2011

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Prime Minister John Key has admitted he initially mishandled suspicions of spying by Israeli backpackers, saying: "sometimes you don't get it perfectly right in the first moment".

However, Labour leader Phil Goff says Mr Key has got it wrong again – this time in his comments about the massacre in Norway – and has accused the prime minister of "mouthing off" without checking his facts first.

Mr Key has wound up a trip to the United States which ended with a meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.

Afterwards the pair addressed media and commented on breaking news of the mass killing in and near the Norwegian capital Oslo.

Mr Key told reporters: "If it is an act of global terrorism, I think what it shows is no country large or small is immune from that risk and that's why New Zealand's played its part in Afghanistan".

In his last interview before leaving the United States, Mr Key was asked about revelations Government agencies including police and the Security Intelligence Service had investigated the actions of a group of Israeli backpackers following February's massive earthquake in Christchurch. He said Mr Goff had been briefed on the investigation.

"I personally didn't brief him, but my understanding from the director of SIS, Warren Tucker, is that he was briefed and he was shown the same note and report that I saw," he told TVNZ's Q+A programme.

Mr Goff said Mr Key was wrong. "I have not received that report, I have not seen any report, I was not aware of the allegations."

The prime minister's comment on the killings in Norway were also wrong, he said. "I'm sorry, the appalling murders in Norway have nothing to do with Afghanistan. They had a lot to do with a Right-wing, probably psychopathic, zealot who is anti-immigration.

"The prime minister has to understand the responsibilities of his office. He cannot mouth off without checking his facts first, which he's now done ... on a number of occasions in the past few days."

Mr Key's comments about Norway were "premature, unfortunate and didn't stack up", Mr Goff said. "Those were comments that were perhaps designed to impress the president."

The prime minister was wrong to initially refuse to comment on the Israeli backpackers, citing the national interest, Mr Goff said.

However, Mr Key admitted the mistake himself, saying he later realised the impression he had first left "wasn't sustainable".

"If I ... did it all again, I'd probably start where I ended six hours later, but it comes with the territory," Mr Key said.

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"Sometimes you don't get it perfectly right in the first moment."

- The Dominion Post

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