President Obama plans New Zealand visit
TRACY WATKINS IN WASHINGTON DC
United States President Barack Obama says he plans to visit New Zealand - "if not this year then certainly before the end of my presidency".
Obama made the comment after a meeting at the White House today with Prime Minister John Key.
After talks lasting well over an hour, Obama said he had indicated to Key that he would "love to come to New Zealand because I hear it's really nice and I know the people are nice because I've had a chance to meet [Key].
"So we are going to be working with my schedule to see what I can come up with - if not this year then certainly before the end of my presidency."
Key has invited Obama to visit New Zealand on the back of the G20 summit in Brisbane in November but the Government has played down the odds of him making it due to his schedule.
But the President's statement today is a signal that he will try to make it happen.
Speaking to media after the meeting, Obama said the US-NZ relatiionship had never been stronger than under himself and Key.
"We share values, we have enormously strong people-to-people relationships, we have excellent commercial ties and we have increasing consultations and relationships between our militaries.
"All of those components have deepened during the course of our tenures here."
Obama also referred to the New Zealand economy and the fact that it had been out-performing many other economies.
"New Zealand has been doing very well, in part as John explained to me because of the rebuilding after the devastating earthquake that had happened there but also because of the outstanding growth of its agricultural sector."
New Zealand was one of the few countries that could "maybe" match the US when it came to agricultural productivity "and the excellence of our products", the President said.
They also canvassed regional issues including North Korea, China and trade and that United States and New Zealand were two of the original members of the Trans Pacific Partnership coalition.
As a country with a small population and "really good products" New Zealand had "great interest" in making sure markets were open and rules were abided by when it came to trade, Obama said.
"So we discussed a process where before the end of the year we are able to get a document that can create jobs both for New Zealand and the US and the other countries participating and expand wealth for all parrties concerned.
"I hope this is by the time we see each other again in November when I travel to Asia [when] we should have something that we have consulted with Congress about, the public can take a look at and can make a forcible argument to close the deal. But we've got a lot of work to do between now and then."
They also discussed climate change, an issue on which the US saw New Zealand as a partner.
"So we discussed our plans for putting forward robust action in 2015 with the upcoming Paris conference."
The president also referred to the US military's relaxation of its ban on New Zealand naval vessels berthing at American military facilities.
"I'm proud that my original home state of Hawaii is going to be welcoming a New Zealand ship coming into port for the first time in a couple of decades and we're very proud of that. I'm sure you will get a good welcome when they come. And although obviously New Zealand is a small country with a small armed forces, the cooperation we have on intelligence issues, New Zealand's excellent efforts when it comes to training and participating in peacekeeping operations, makes it an invaluable partner."
Key acknowledged the role played by the US on the world stage and told the President: "There's never an easy day here in the Oval Office".
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Key said the meeting had been a great opportunity to reaffirm the relationship beween New Zealand and the United States.
"Top of that list was the TPP and the capacity for the partners to reach an agreement; I feel very confident after the meeting that a high quality comprehensive deal can be achieved. There's a lot more work to be done and its never over till its over but I think there's a willingness on the part of the partners and the US and New Zealand have always been firmly of the view that the TPP was good for [our]countries and for the region."
On the prospect of Obama visiting New Zealand, Key said the President's schedule was "hellish" but "he will be in the region ... and I certainly wouldn't rule out that he might make a trip".
He also acknowledged the President's role in removing the ban on New Zealand naval vessels.
The US banned New Zealand naval vessels from docking at its military facilities in retaliation for our nuclear free legislation which effectively prohibits US warships from visiting New Zealand due to the American navy's policy of neither confirming nor denying if a warship is carrying nuclear weapons.
"I think the President himself thought it was pretty silly that a New Zealand naval vessel would be parked up at the commercial part of Honolulu port and actually on a training exercise with the US would not actually be in that military facility. And I think it was the President's intervention himself that said 'this just needs to be resolved'. It's not a big thing in itself but it's a tangible sign of the warmth of the relationship."
Asked about his comments in Washington earlier this week that the TPP might best be resolved by leaving Japan out of the deal for now, Key said New Zealand wanted a high quality comprehensive deal and that was the level every participant country should aiming for.
Talks earlier this year between Washington and Japan suggested there would have to be compromises, including in agriculture, to get Japan over the line.
Key said he remained confident that Japan would get there and he would have discussions soon with Japan's prime minister Shinto Abe, who is scheduled to visit New Zealand.
"But in the end I dont think we should compromise the quality of the deal. That's been New Zealand's point of view and we are going to remain firm on that view."