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Updated: December 24, 2010 06:40 IST

Former New Zealand leader accuses U.S. of bullying

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Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. File Photo
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. File Photo

The U.S. embassy in Wellington used “outright bullying” in complaining when the ruling Labour Party held a fundraising screening of Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11, former prime minister Helen Clark said on Friday.

Commenting on a July 2004 embassy cable to Washington, released by WikiLeaks, Ms. Clark told the New Zealand Herald: “This comes down to, really, outright bullying. It’s pretty crazy. I just find it unprofessional.” Fahrenheit 9/11 was critical of the response of the US government and particularly President George W Bush to the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq.

One cable from former embassy deputy chief of mission David Burnett claimed that objections to Wellington member of Parliament and cabinet minister Marian Hobbs planning to host a screening averted a “potential fiasco.” “It is apparent to us that neither the minister nor anyone else in the Labour government seems to have thought there was anything wrong with a senior minister hosting such an event,” Burnett wrote.

“Ambassador will use a scheduled meeting with the prime minister to tell Ms. Clark of the near instantaneous press queries for (U.S. government) comment in this matter and remind her that we would really rather not get dragged into internal political issues, such as ministerial fundraising events for Ms. Clark’s Labour Party.” The cable said that complaints to Ms. Clark’s office produced a response that Hobbs would attend the event but not host it.

Earlier, Phil Goff, foreign minister at the time and Ms. Clark’s successor as leader of the Labour Party, accused US Ambassador Charles Swindells of feeding incorrect information to Washington because he was a Republican Party donor and did not understand diplomacy.

In cables released by WikiLeaks, Swindells accused the Ms. Clark government of over-reacting when two Israeli secret agents were arrested for trying to get New Zealand passports fraudulently, saying New Zealand wanted to boost trade with Arab countries.

Two other agents were involved, and Ms. Clark said at the time there was no doubt they were Mossad operatives. She suspended high-level diplomatic relations for more than a year until Israel apologized in 2005.

In the cables, Swindells said New Zealand had “little to lose” by acting against Israel and saw the “flap” as “an opportunity to bolster its credibility with the Arab community and, by doing so, perhaps help NZ lamb and other products gain greater access to a larger and more lucrative market.” A furious Goff said that Swindells let his background as a financier influence how he saw foreign affairs.

“It’s the norm for the Americans to appoint ambassadors that aren’t professionals,” Goff said.

“Charles, I think, really suffered from a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding of how countries work and what they do.” Ms. Clark and Goff have angrily condemned suggestions in other cables that the Labour government in power from 1999-2008 sent Army engineers to Iraq so that the giant dairy co-operative Fonterra, which is the country’s biggest exporter, would profit from UN oil-for-food contracts.

They were supported Friday by former Defence Force chief Sir Bruce Ferguson, who said the embassy staff member who linked New Zealand’s humanitarian mission to Iraq to deals for Fonterra “was probably smoking dope.”

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