Cablegate: Foreign Minister Peters' Trip to Washington


DE RUEHWL #0526/01 1910455
O 100455Z JUL 06





E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/05/2016


Classified By: Ambassador William McCormick,
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: During his July visit to Washington, NZ
Foreign Minister Winston Peters hopes to focus discussion
away from the nuclear issue and towards positive areas of
bilateral cooperation. Peters, who has from the start of his
tenure openly called for improved US-NZ relations, will
quietly press for the President and PMQrk to meet on the
margins of theQC summit.Q an effort to reinforce areas
of common interest, Peters also hopes to briefly review NZ's
efforts in Afghanistan, assistance to the Pacific Islands
Countries (PICs), and military deployments in E.Timor and the
Solomons. Although trade is not in his formal brief he will
almost certainly mention GNZ's continued interest in a Free
Trade Agreement with us, while recognizing it's not in the
cards for now.

2. (C) When Peters was appointed as Foreign Minister outside
the cabinet, political pundits had predicted he would be
shunted aside by former Foreign (now Defence and Trade)
Minister Phil Goff or perhaps even bring down the Government.
But while the arrangement remains a bit awkward, Peters
appears to be working professionally with Goff and the Prime
Minister and has carved a place for himself in promoting New
Zealand's relations with the Pacific Islands and Europe. His
relations with the press remain very rocky, however. Peters
reportedly views a successful trip to Washington as his most
important objective to date. End Summary.

3. (C) Peters hopes his meetings with the Secretary,
National Security Advisor, members of the Friends of New
Zealand Caucus, and others will focus on positive aspects of
the bilateral relationship. According to MFAT staff, he is
eager to explain areas in which NZ officials are making a
difference, such as counter-terrorism capacity building
assistance in the PICs. He also wants to highlight areas of
bilateral cooperation, such as WTO Doha round negotiations
and shared opposition to the UN draft declaration on the
rights of indigenous peoples.

A Penchant for the Pacific

4. (C) Peters has been playing a constructive role in the
Pacific Islands, drawing on his years of experience as a
Maori politician who's developed close personal ties with
regional leaders. So far this year, he has traveled to Fiji,
Tonga, Niue, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, the Cooks, and
Papua New Guinea. His "non-linear" approach to his meetings
reportedly goes over well in the Pacific. He's known for
putting people at ease -- perhaps by talking first about
rugby -- before delivering the Government's message.
Peters genuinely enjoys meeting with Pacific Islanders of all
backgrounds. After his joint trip to the Solomons with
Australian FM Downer, he remained behind to tour areas
outside of Honiara (Ref B). One of Peters' most pressing --
and challenging -- goals is to convince Pacific Island
leaders to work jointly to prevent being used as pawns
between the PRC and Taiwan. Peters has also stated publicly
that he does not believe that the United States appreciates
all that New Zealand is doing in the Pacific.

5. (C) Peters has also traveled twice to Europe in the past
three months. Visiting Russia after meetings with the EU in
May, Peters reportedly hit it off with Foreign Minister
Lavrov. He went on to Ukraine, the first New Zealand Foreign
Minister to visit that country. On the margins of the recent
Oceanic Summit meeting in Paris during his second trip to
Europe, Peters convinced European Commissioner for
Development Michel to provide USD 3 million in EU assistance
to E. Timor.

An Improved US-NZ Relationship?

6. (C) Peters has from the start of his tenure as Foreign
Minister called on the PM and others to improve relations
with the United States, although in his many public
statements (Ref A) and meetings with Embassy and U.S.
officials he has offered no details on how to do this. In
some respects, Peters' official position outside government
has helped him to pursue a more pro-U.S. agenda, unlike Goff,
who retains some hope of higher office and can't go too far
against the will of left-leaning Labour Caucus members.

7. (C) Peters puts his pro-U.S. sentiments in practice and
is warm and open in his contacts with the Ambassador. MFAT
is becoming friendlier too: Emboffs understand that a "fatwa"
of sorts was issued by senior officials there ordering staff
to be more responsive to us. The change has been remarkable,
with officials calling to offer us briefings on issues of
interest and providing faster and more helpful responses to
our requests. MFAT's CEO has approved the issuance of access
passes for key Embassy officials, and our contacts say the
idea is that more MFAT staff will remember to contact us if
they see us walking the halls. While Peters has not directly
initiated all of these openings, he's definitely created the
environment that has encouraged them.

8. (C) How much Peters influences the rest of his
government's policies towards us and other issues is a more
open question. The press claims he and Goff compete for
control of the foreign affairs portfolio, but our contacts
tell us they seem to cooperate on a professional level even
if there is no great warmth between them. We understand that
Peters did resent the fact that Goff was the first NZ
official to visit the Solomon Islands after the recent unrest
there, as Peters considers the Pacific Islands to be his
"patch." (Peters was on travel in Europe at the time.) But
when Goff was the first to visit E. Timor -- he caught a
flight to E.Timor with Australian Defence Minister Hill --
Peters reportedly shrugged it off. Our contacts say that the
Prime Minister has served as liaison between the two when
issues overlap. She and Peters by all accounts have a very
close working relationship, and last week she attended our
July 4 reception for the first time as PM. We wouldn't say
that Peters alone inspired her to attend, but his influence
was very possibly a factor.

9. (C) Peters himself is a study in contrasts -- he can be
charming and outgoing, but also very retiring in certain
settings, especially in new or unscripted environments. We
would not be surprised, for example, if he would need to be
drawn out a bit during his Washington meetings. Peters likes
a good debate, and is considered one of the most skillful
combatants on the floor of Parliament. He also maintains
very thorny relations with the National Party (whose
Government he did help bring down, when he served in its
Cabinet in the 90s). At times this can get the better of
him, as when he claimed leaked e-mails proved National Party
leader Don Brash was in contact with U.S. political advisors
before the elections, despite claims to the contrary. When
the Ambassador expressed his displeasure over the incident,
Peters claimed his target was Brash's credibility, not us.
We've not heard anything similar since.

10. (C) Peters has an open disdain for the press, especially
following a series of media stories questioning the wisdom of
his appointment as Foreign Minister. His relations with the
New Zealand Herald are especially strained. When the paper
published an article last month claiming he was sensitive
over Minister Goff's role in foreign affairs, Peters
countered with a statement listing some fourteen errors the
paper reportedly had made. Even his staff, who have told us
that the story was not true, fear the statement made it seem
as though it was. Meanwhile, MFAT has been instructed not to
tell the press the dates for Peters' trip to the United
States: he does not want them to know until just before he
leaves -- or later.

11. (C) One reason the press likes to cover Peters is that
he leads a colorful life. He's elegant and witty, owns
racehorses, and is famous for staying out late. Most
observers agree, however, that he seems much more settled
since starting a relationship earlier this year with Jan
Trotman, an Auckland-based pharmaceutical executive.

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