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Key right to say cables would 'embarrass'

Monday 20 Dec 2010 12:07 p.m.

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By Tova O'Brien

Cables leaked by WikiLeaks have offered a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at New Zealand politics as seen through American eyes - how and why some deals are done and the contrary stories told to the public.

Of the 250,000 secret documents obtained by WikiLeaks, about 1600 relate to New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key pre-emptively said they might lead to embarrassment, and he was right.

"I think it'll make people a bit more cynical about foreign affairs," says political commentator John Pagani. "I think it's exposed that there is some cynicism in the Government."
Most of the cables were sent when Labour was in power, and one suggests that then Prime Minister Helen Clark sent troops to Iraq to maintain Fonterra's lucrative United Nations dairy contract.

"The real reason the troops were sent and claimed by America was to help advance the trade deal," says the Greens' Keith Locke. "That is unprincipled politics and the Labour Party should be ashamed of it."

Ahead of the 2008 election, Mr Key committed to meeting the Dalai Lama. But cables show Mr Key assured the Chinese premier that neither he nor his ministers would meet the exiled spiritual leader when he visited last year.

"It's a history of duplicity and fooling the public who is very much supportive of the Dalai Lama and would like our Government to meet him," says Mr Locke.

Other cables show that senior Government officials undermined New Zealand's nuclear-free policy, suggesting to Washington that it could be reversed.

"There's a perception that it's anti-American and those perceptions are wrong," says Mr Pagani, "until people understand that we're not going to move past it, so that's a big failure for our diplomatic core."

The cables have given New Zealanders a unique insight into the workings of Government, and although they may come as a shock to some people, political commentators say they're not likely to cause any long-term damage.

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