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Lisa Owen talks to US Ambassador Mark Gilbert

On The Nation:

Lisa Owen talks to US Ambassador Mark Gilbert

US ambassador says he “would like” the United States to send a ship to naval celebrations in New Zealand next year, but “we will always stay with our ‘neither confirm nor deny’ [nuclear] policy”.

Denies that sending a vessel under NZ’s nuclear-free law amounts to a backdown: “When we’ve always talked about sending vessels here, it’s never been on any terms but the ones that we’ve always had, which is the ‘neither confirm nor deny’… IU wouldn’t say that it was bowing down”.

Says Islamic State must be defeated at all costs: “We need to stop it. And whatever we need to do to stop it is what has to be done.”

New Zealand’s contribution to the coalition of countries fighting Islamic State is “a really good commitment”

Ambassador is confident President Obama can get the TPP passed through the US House of Representatives: “I believe he will be successful”.

Predicts the US presidential election next year will be won and lost on security issues.

Lisa Owen: Good morning, Ambassador.
Mark Gilbert: Good morning.
Now, ahead of the Paris climate talks, you’ve just been down in Antarctica, haven’t you, and talked to scientists there about the risk of ice melting if the temperatures rise?
It was an incredible trip, and having the opportunity to talk with the scientists first-hand was something that was very important to me, so I was glad I was able to make the trip a couple weeks ago.
The thing is, though, the countries’ targets that they’ve committed to for lowering greenhouse gas emissions to keep temperature rises below 2 degrees — they’re not enough, are they? So is America intending to cut more and do more and do other countries need to follow suit?
Well, as the Prime Minister said earlier in your show, we all need to be doing more. President Obama, since he came into office, has really worked on climate change. We’ve increased our wind capacity threefold, solar twentyfold. He’s also put in other programmes to reduce emissions from cars, from our plants. He has a clean energy policy to reduce emissions coming out of our plants by a third.
But it’s not enough, though, is it? The numbers just don’t add up. So will he go further?
Well, what I believe is that we need to get an agreement out of COP 21 and that we move in the right direction. And if I may give you a quick story. When the President three years ago came up with the idea of changing what the miles per gallon — or kilometres per gallon — that our cars needed to get, everybody thought it was going to kill the auto industry. But not only did they reach the targets, but then the consumers wanted those more fuel-efficient cars and now today are asking for even more. So what happens — if you start moving in the right direction by doing the right thing, I think it’ll get us to where we need to be.
But you’re not anticipating that the President’s going to give any ground at this talk?
Well, I believe that all the nations are going to be there. He’s made joint statements with President Xi of China. And I think the fact that both China and the United States believe that this is critically important for everyone, I believe that we’ll get a deal done.
All right. Well, the United States and New Zealand were both included as targets in the latest Islamic State video that was released this week, and President Obama has been saying that the world must do more to fight it. What more should we do?
Well, there are currently 65 nations that are part of the coalition, either training or fighting ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, and it’s critically important that we do that. If you see what has happened, there are passengers that got in a plane in Sharm el-Sheikh that never thought that terrorism would come to them. We all saw what happened in Paris, or the Lindt in Australia, where people sat down to have hot chocolate, and terrorists came in. So it can affect you anywhere.
And we appreciate how bad it is, I think. But how much further do we need to go to stop it?
We need to stop it. And whatever we need to do to stop it is what has to be done.
So what is that specifically? What more do we need to do? When President Obama says, ‘We need to do more,’ what does he mean? What?
Well, it’s a concerted effort between many nations, and everyone’s chipping in to help with the containment of Daesh. And it’s critically important that we do do that. So whether it is air strikes, whether it is stopping the recruitment, which is very important, or to keep the recruits from coming back to our respective countries is also very important.
So is New Zealand chipping in enough, then?
New Zealand has what I consider a really good commitment. They sent 143 troops to Taji to train Iraqi soldiers so that they’ll be able to confront ISIL on the ground in Iraq.
So is that enough, when the President is saying, ‘We need to do more’? Does New Zealand need to do more?
I think New Zealand has given a great contribution.
So, what, that’s enough?
That’s up for the people of New Zealand to decide. I know in speaking with the Prime Minister, he talked about this as a moral issue, that it has to be stopped. And that was the number of troops that the New Zealand government felt was the right number. So it’s truly up to New Zealand itself to make that decision.
Okay. Well, New Zealand has invited a US ship to the 75th anniversary bash for our navy in November of next year. So if you do send a ship, can you confirm or deny whether it will be nuclear powered or carry nuclear arms?
As I’m sure you know, we’ve had for many years a ‘neither confirm nor deny’ policy. And New Zealand has never asked us to do that, even back in the 1980s. Probably the most recent comment about that is when Helen Clark was asked about that back in 2004. She said, ‘We would never ask the United States about this.’ We make an independent determination on our own just the same as this government currently does with all of the ships that come and visit at the present time.
Okay, so will you send a ship that complies with our laws? Let me put it that way.
First of all, a decision has not been made whether we’re going to be able to send a ship or not.
If you were to send one, would you send one that complied with our laws?
We will always stay with our ‘neither confirm nor deny’ policy.
You’re going to stick hard and fast with that?
We always have.
But do you actually want to send a ship? Would you like to?
I would like for us to send a ship, and it’s something that’s being discussed at high levels of our government to make a determination of whether we’ll be able to or not.
But if you want to send a ship, that, in essence, would amount to a backdown, because you’d be coming on our terms.
That’s actually not correct. When we’ve always talked about sending vessels here, it’s never been on any terms but the ones that we’ve always had, which is the ‘neither confirm nor deny’. I think what’s really important here is if you look at the relationship between New Zealand and the United States and how it’s grown, it may even be at the best place that it has ever been. And I think that that’s really what’s important.
But when it comes down to this ship visit, if you send a ship, whether you have a ‘neither confirm nor deny’ policy, if you were to send a ship, you are implicitly confirming that it is a non-nuclear ship, and therefore, New Zealand policy has stood up; you’ve bowed down.
I wouldn’t use that phraseology at all. I wouldn’t say that it is bowing down. When we send aircraft here, troops here, there are certain ways that the New Zealand government signs off on that, and we’ve been doing that for many years. I know when China, France, the UK, which are all nuclear countries, send ships, the government of New Zealand takes a look at the vessels, they make a determination on their own, and then they give the approval for the ships. And the policy wouldn’t be, nor should it be, any different for the United States.
Okay, well, let’s talk about the TPP. Now, America pushed hard for an investor-state dispute clause, but there’s concern here that that could place limits on lawmakers, and I think the most famous one being Labour saying that it would not be able to ban foreign house buyers. Is it right for government policy to be constrained like that?
Well, the government of New Zealand, with Minister Tim Groser, who’s an excellent negotiator, I believe made the best deal that he felt that he could for New Zealand, as did all of our trade ministers. Remembering the TPP’s very different than the free-trade agreements that all of our nations have signed with other nations. Having a bilateral agreement is relatively easy, but having an agreement with 12 countries is more difficult. What I will say about investor-state, any time that any of these have been brought up, New Zealand, nor the United States, has ever lost one of these.
Can Obama get this passed?
I believe he can. It’s important for him to do so, and as you probably know, he just sent it to Congress. They will have a chance to review it, and then they will have an up-and-down vote on it. And I believe he will be successful.
But it will be tight, though, won’t it?
It will, but when people look back a decade from now and see how well it’s doing, nobody will remember what the actual vote was.
Okay. So, Mr Ambassador, is America ready for President Trump?
We’re still a long way away. So, we’re a year out from the election, our primaries will start in February, and as I’m sure you know, there’s still probably about 16, 17—
What do you reckon, Mr Ambassador? Come on, is America ready for President Trump?
He’s still doing very well in the polls, and I’m not here to make a judgement on who will be the next president of the United States or who will be the Republican or Democratic nominees. But what I will do, if I can make a prediction on your show, is that I believe that this election will be about national security, and I think that when all is said and done, that the two candidates that will be running against each other will be well versed and really understand national security because of the importance of it.
All right, thank you for joining us this morning, Mr Ambassador. We appreciate your time.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.


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