OPINION: John Key's first trip to the White House in three years may turn into a far greater diplomatic test than his round of golf with United States President Barack Obama over Christmas. Tracy Watkins
He will have to walk a careful line as Iraq is plunged into a fresh crisis and the US contemplates its response to an extremist takeover of key Iraqi cities.
Key meets Obama early Saturday New Zealand time after a round of meetings in New York shoring up this country's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
Other engagements in New York include a private lunch at the home of former US President Bill Clinton - a coup for Key, though Hillary Clinton, touted as a presidential contender, will be away on a book tour.
Obama has so far rejected the redeployment of US ground troops to Iraq but a US carrier is headed to the region.
With the crisis erupting as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott met with Obama, the Aussie prime minister wasted no time affirming his country's support for any action the US takes.
On a day in which Abbott and the US president penned a rare opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times together trumpeting their close relationship, that was not surprising.
Australia and the US are long-standing allies; as Obama noted, Australia was one of a handful of nations America knew it could always count on, not just because of shared values, but because of military capability.
"I like having them in a foxhole if we're in trouble," the president said.
The same could be said of New Zealand, given that we have served alongside the US in major conflicts, but with one exception, the Iraq invasion, which the former Clark Government opposed.
Helen Clark's stand against Iraq bolstered New Zealand's reputation as a small but independently-minded country earned previously for our anti-nuclear stand.
It is that reputation which the New Zealand government has been stressing in its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, up against bigger and more aggressive world powers with far deeper pockets.
That is also the New Zealand story Key will be stressing when he embarks on a round of shuttle diplomacy in New York to secure more votes.
The unfolding humanitarian crisis in Iraq makes it a very different situation to the war a decade ago. Reports of mass executions will cause international horror.
But New Zealand's security council bid means that Key's words will be scrutinised more than usual when he follows Abbott through the revolving White House door later this week.