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What the WikiLeaks cables say about NZ

Published: 12:26PM Monday December 20, 2010 Source: ONE News/NZPA

The whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks has in the past month published a trove of 250,000 US diplomatic cables, many including sensitive and classified information on New Zealand.

Below is some of the more significant information released in the leaked cables concerning New Zealand.

Defence staff leaks

Senior Defence Ministry staff told the United States Embassy that former Prime Minister Helen Clark had decided to send soldiers to Iraq to stop Fonterra losing lucrative Oil for Food contracts.

One of hundreds of leaked diplomatic cables, the information from the US Embassy in Wellington said the identities of the unnamed defence staff should be "strictly protected", after they briefed embassy staff on a cabinet meeting in which Clark's government did an about turn on sending troops to Iraq.

"Senior MOD officials (strictly protect) tell us it was not until Finance Minister Michael Cullen pointed out in a subsequent cabinet meeting that New Zealand's absence from Iraq might cost NZ dairy conglomerate Fonterra the lucrative dairy supply contract it enjoyed under the United Nations Oil for Food program," the cable said.

It said the Prime Minister "found a face-saving compromise" by sending non-combat engineers to be embedded with British forces.

Another cable from 2005 said the embassy had no information to indicate any Muslim terrorist cell was operating in New Zealand but that police were monitoring some New Zealand Muslims who may have fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia and possibly Chechnya.

The cable recorded there were about 50,000 Muslims in New Zealand, including 708 Maori converts.

Hushed up

The US government quietly approved eight new areas for military co-operation with New Zealand in 2007.

The cables give some insights into the dramatic about-face by the Americans towards New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy between 2005 to 2007.

Their revelations are all the more important because of the US' insistence on no fanfare around closer defence relation.

One of the more recent cables shows the US was anxious that Prime Minister John Key did not have a "media strategy" in place on the US review of the bilateral military relationship - the implication being that the US did not expect him to reveal any details and that he would fob off any questions about it.

Cables also point to the decision by the US government in 2007 approving eight areas of co-operation between the two countries.

None of the areas of co-operation in themselves were top secret but the fact that such a decision on military co-operation had been made at all would have been more than noteworthy.

Time not 'ripe' for US trade deal

A cable revealed that the government understands the time isn't "ripe" for a free trade deal with the United States .

In a memo just last year United States deputy chief of mission Robert Clarke wrote that Trade Minister Tim Groser discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multi-country trade deal which the US has agreed to negotiate into.

"(Mr Groser) emphasised he understood that the time was not yet ripe for Washington to move forward. He added that he had cautioned his Vietnamese and Peruvian counterparts that it would be 'foolish and even counterproductive' to apply diplomatic pressure on the USG (United States Government) in an attempt to accelerate the time schedule beyond that dictated by the White House's internal process."

The memo said Groser expressed his confidence that the US administration wanted to progress multilateral trade at the right time.

"However, he said it is essential for the United States to eventually join the TPP for the agreement to be useful - 'a TPP without the US is like a meal of steak and potatoes without the meat dish'."

In March 2006 then US Ambassador William McCormick talks about how Goff, then Trade Minister, implied that while New Zealand wanted a FTA with the US it probably wouldn't get one.

"It is perhaps the first time that the government has shared with the public a realistic appraisal of its chance for FTA talks with Washington."

The memo says the FTA was almost more important diplomatically than economically as failure to achieve one reflected on the government. It also says a trade economist said then Prime Minister Helen Clark had an "innate discomfort" with free trade as she preferred government interventionist approaches to the economy.

In September the same year a memo details former New Zealand Ambassador to the US John Wood's comments criticising how the government had handled the trade issue and the nuclear row which led to the ANZUS split.

NZ asked to take US prisoners

A 2005 cable from the US Embassy in Wellington shows the US wanted to send a group of Guantanamo Bay inmates to New Zealand.

The classified cable, sent on August 31 2005, reveals the US wanted to transfer Uighur refugees, from Central Asia and the Xinjiang province in western China, to New Zealand.

The US has had a detention centre for terror suspects at its Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba since 2002.

Dalai Lama meeting

Prime Minister John Key assured Chinese premier Wen Jiabao no ministers would meet the Dalai Lama - despite a pre-election commitment to hold a meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, cables between Wellington and Washington show.

The cables from the United States embassy in Wellington reveal that in April last year, Key told the Chinese premier neither he nor his Cabinet would meet the Dalai Lama when he visited New Zealand last December.

That was despite give a pre-election commitment to Friends of Tibet chairman Thuten Kesan that he would meet the exiled leader, and despite Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully telling Parliament there was no boycott.

However, a cable from Wellington to Washington quoted Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomat Grahame Morton as saying: "PM Key had earlier conversed with Premier Wen Jiabao concerning the Dalai Lama's December 4-7 visit to Auckland, saying that neither he nor any of his ministers would meet with the Dalai Lama.

"Morton said the Chinese 'obviously registered' this. Morton added that the PM ... made this decision without any consultation, but others in the government are still obliged to respect it."

Clinton's gaffe

Leaked United States diplomatic cables explain why officials appear to have been caught on the hop last year when American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the resumption of intelligence sharing between the two countries - the deal was supposed to be top secret.

The cables obtained by The Sunday Star Times confirmed that it had been the intention of both countries to keep the news that intelligence collaboration had been "fully restored" secret. A classified American embassy cable sent to Clinton on January 6 warned her not to acknowledge the position in public ahead of a visit to New Zealand, which was later postponed.

But Clinton had, in fact, already lifted the lid on the news, announcing the decision to restore intelligence sharing at a press conference with Foreign Minister Murray McCully in Washington in October last year.

New Zealand's government refused to comment at the time despite Clinton labelling the decision to resume intelligence sharing cooperation as "very significant".

Anti-nuclear stance

A 2004 cable between Washington and Wellington said that the country's anti-nuclear stance was influenced as much by wanting to cut defence costs as by ideology.

It was headed "What we could not say in the mission programme plan", the Dominion Post reported.

"We have been told by retired government of New Zealand officials who were in senior positions in the Lange government at the time the anti-nuclear policy was instituted that one of the considerations favouring the policy was that it would lead to New Zealand withdrawing or being pushed out of Anzus, thereby lessening the country's defence spending requirements at a time of fiscal and economic crisis," the cable from the United States embassy in Wellington says.

New Zealand adopted nuclear-free legislation in 1984 when David Lange's Labour government swept into power - effectively blocking visits by US warships.

The cable also notes an attempt by the Labour government of the 2000s to move away from the traditional American and Australian influence in the Pacific by favouring China and France.

"In laying groundwork for the visit of Chinese President Hu, the Clark government privately mooted that it was necessary for New Zealand to work more closely with other powers such as China and France to curtail US and Australian influence in the region," it said.

"During the visit of the Chinese Vice-Minister for Trade, New Zealand Trade Minister Jim Sutton publicly claimed that China was New Zealand's most important and valued trading partner, a claim that left Australian officials here scratching their heads in wonder."

New Zealand's defence spending was also criticised as being too inadequate to cover even "replacement costs for basic coastal defence hardware" and the defence force as having not enough troops to for effective peacekeeping operations.

Spying on Fiji

New Zealand's intelligence agencies spied on Fiji's military before and after the 2006 coup, cables reveal.

NZ used signals intelligence to listen in to Fijian mobile phone calls. The cable does not detail what information was intercepted.

It said that former Prime Minister Helen Clark realised after the coup that New Zealand had become "too reliant" on Australia for intelligence.

Auckland beaches labelled vital

The Southern Cross undersea cable landings at two Auckland beaches were labelled critical infrastructure and key resources by the United States government, a cable released in early December revealed.

They are the landings for the fibre optic link at Whenuapai and Takapuna.

The memo from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was titled critical foreign dependencies (critical infrastructure and key resources located abroad) dated February 18 last year and is classified secret.

It said it is not for internet distribution.

Concern over Michael Moore film

Concern was raised about a New Zealand government minister attending the screening of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, a cable revealed.

Moore's 2004 documentary film looked critically at George W Bush's presidency and the war on terror.

He commented about the New Zealand cable on a television show.

The 2004 cable reveals US deputy chief of mission to New Zealand David Burnett called Environment Minister Marian Hobbs, concerned she was hosting an event where Moore's film would be screened and he also rang Prime Minister Helen Clark about it.

Moore said that level of micro-managing raised questions about raised questions about the reach and influence of the United States.

Hobbs, who retired from politics in 2008, told the Guardian newspaper she did not recall the event.