PM low-key compared with World Cup, Iraq

17:00, Jun 17 2014

There are only two topics on America's lips at the moment - the football and Iraq.

As the United States celebrated its win in its opening World Cup match, the Obama Administration was embroiled in high stakes diplomacy over the fall of parts of Iraq to fighters from the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

A visit by the New Zealand prime minister is unlikely to rank much air time in comparison.

But that may be just as well; when Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited the US just a week before Key's arrival, he was roasted by late-night comedians for a string of gaffes since he took office.

Key's trip gets off to a more sombre start - overnight he was due to lay a wreath at the 9/11 memorial before leaving for a round of meetings at the United Nations in support of New Zealand's Security Council bid.

But the business end of the trip is Washington, which will be preoccupied by the Iraq crisis as Obama mulls options including air strikes or deploying special forces soldiers in an advisory capacity in Iraq.


New Zealand special forces served in Afghanistan in such a role, of course, but were said not to have been deployed during the last Iraq war, which the former Labour government opposed.

Earlier this week, Key would not rule out New Zealand responding to a US request for assistance - but he played down the likelihood that the US would even ask.

The crisis will likely be discussed during Key's round of meetings in Washington with the likes of US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel ahead of the White House meeting early on Saturday.

Key last visited the White House three years ago but has been a regular at the United Nations in support of the Security Council bid.

This visit is starkly different to previous affairs, however, when the media were in tow for the obligatory before and after "photo-ops" at his various meetings.

This time round, the media have been excluded from those meetings and they are even under instructions not to take any close-up shots of guests at an evening reception hosted by Key in New York in support of New Zealand's candidacy. The reason for the sensitivity is the intensity of the race between Spain, Turkey and New Zealand for two of the three available temporary seats on the UN Security Council.

The UN's 193 permanent representatives are being wooed by all three countries as promises are made, pledges of support - some written - are exchanged and quid pro quos are discussed.

There may also be some sensitivity around Key's meeting with former prime minister Helen Clark, whose name is increasingly being linked to a bid for the UN's top job when Ban Ki Moon's term expires in 2016.

Key reportedly said before leaving New Zealand that the Government would support Clark's bid if she put her hand up. But that seems to cut across assurances New Zealand is said to have given to Eastern European nations that it supports the next secretary-general being appointed from their region.