By TRACY WATKINS – The Dominion Post | Thursday, 1 March 2007
Helen Clark is to make a return visit to the White House – just her second in her three terms as prime minister.
Miss Clark confirmed she would meet United States President George W Bush and other senior members of the US Administration in Washington this month.
Miss Clark’s first trip to the White House in 2002 was seen as a diplomatic coup – the first by a Labour leader since the Anzus bust-up in the 1980s.
And the words of then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell in describing New Zealand and America as “very, very, very good friends” represented a thawing of what have often been seen as frosty relations.
But with Mr Bush in trouble at home over the Iraq war and a free trade deal with the US no longer on the horizon, there is less traction politically for Miss Clark in the visit than there was five years ago.
In a possible sign of that, Miss Clark issued a statement emphasising the working nature of her trip, which will include side trips to Chicago and Seattle to promote New Zealand science, technology, investment, education and tourism.
She said her talks with President Bush and senior members of his administration would focus on counter-terrorism including in Afghanistan, regional security, the Pacific and East Timor, nuclear non-proliferation, trade and the Antarctic.
Miss Clark will leave on March 19 and return on March 26.