By Pattrick Smellie
July 15 (BusinessDesk) - Foreign Minister Winston Peters will have bi-lateral meetings with two of US president Donald Trump's most hawkish defence and security advisers in a five day trip to Washington D.C.
Peters leaves today for meetings with a range of key White House officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.
He is also scheduled to give a speech "focused on the importance of the bilateral relationship and opportunities to further strengthen trade and economic cooperation between New Zealand and the United States", a statement from his office said.
“The United States is a close friend of New Zealand. Our countries share a strategic partnership based on our strong security relationship, close economic links and long standing commitment to democracy,” said Peters.
The New Zealand First party leader and deputy Prime Minister has become the Labour-led coalition government's door-opener in Washington and is making pursuit of a bi-lateral free trade agreement with the US a personal goal. The Trump administration withdrew from the TPPA trade and investment agreement in early 2017, one of its first executive acts, ending prospects of a long-sought improvement in trade access for New Zealand exporters to the US market. The US administration has expressed a willingness to negotiate bi-lateral FTAs.
He caused ripples in the Beehive last December when he used a visit that included time with US vice-president Mike Pence to make a speech urging greater US engagement in the Southwest Pacific, a veiled invitation to the growth of Chinese defence and political influence in New Zealand's area of strategic concern.
While in Washington, Peters will also attend a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.
“I look forward to advancing with our American partners our political and economic relationship with the United States, as well the Coalition Government’s commitment to religious freedom, and to countering violent extremism worldwide,” Peters said.
As well as Pompeo and Bolton, Peters will meet the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, the Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, and the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Asia Pacific Subcommittee, Senator Cory Gardner.
He returns to NZ on July 20.