US ambassador prepares to sign out video

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Quick fire questions with US ambassador to NZ Mark Gilbert

It was a long road to New Zealand for US Ambassador Mark Gilbert and wife Nancy. There was a two year wait for the former professional baseball player to be confirmed in the post thanks to a Senate filibuster.

But the road back to America is a quicker one. The shock US election, installing Donald Trump as President elect, ends Gilbert's tenure here. He was a Barrack Obama appointee, a good personal friend as well as a key money man for the outgoing US President.

Gilbert flies back to the US early next year. Based on past experience, it could be a long wait for the next US Ambassador.

Nancy Gilbert interviewing subjects for the Wahine Toa project
BEVAN READ/FAIRFAX NZ

Nancy Gilbert interviewing subjects for the Wahine Toa project

But the Gilberts made up for lost time after arriving here in 2015. The Wahine Toa project, led by Nancy, was a year-long project to show case emerging female Maori leaders.

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She travelled the country to meet them, and the embassy hosted a Maori women's conference.

Gilbert was the first US ambassador in decades to welcome back a US warship to New Zealand. The USS Sampson helped with ...

Gilbert was the first US ambassador in decades to welcome back a US warship to New Zealand. The USS Sampson helped with relief after the Kaikoura earthquake.

And Gilbert, of course, is the first US Ambassador in decades to welcome back a US warship to New Zealand, the USS Sampson, which arrived in New Zealand as the South Island was reeling from the Kaikoura earthquakes.

The Sampson was here for largely ceremonial reasons, to wave the flag during our navy's 75th birthday celebrations. It ended up being rushed into disaster relief instead - ferrying supplies and people to Kaikoura to help in the immediate aftermath of the November earthquake.

"The fact we had a ship here that had helicopters made to carry heavy amounts of supplies, the fact that they could be there and to help - there was never a second thought about that.," says Gilbert

Departing US ambassador to NZ Mark Gilbert.

Departing US ambassador to NZ Mark Gilbert.

The fact the ship was able to be pressed into business so quickly also took the focus off what might other wise have been symbolism of the return of the first US warship under New Zealand's anti-nuclear laws.

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US naval ships stayed away for decades because they saw those laws as being in conflict with their own stated position of neither confirming or denying the presence of nuclear weapons.

It could have been a big deal, but it wasn't. Gilbert says that did not surprise him.

CAMERON BURNELL/STUFF.CO.NZ

Departing US ambassador to NZ Mark Gilbert talks to stuff political editor Tracy Watkins about what a Trump presidency could mean for NZ and the TPP.

"If you think about some of the polls before the ship came….over 80 percent of Kiwis thought the visit was a good thing."

Whether the ships become a regular sight in New Zealand waters is another matter.

"They weren't regular in the past. They were (here) every couple of years. And I believe that will continue, the diplomatic relationship, military relationship between our two countries.....is at the best place it has ever been."

But Gilbert admits there is unfinished business.

He has been a champion of the trans Pacific Partnership agreement in his role, a free trade agreement that now looks to be dead in the water with the change of US administration.

"It's outside our control but it's something I still believe in."

 - Stuff

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