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Clinton Keen To Reschedule NZ Visit, McCully Says

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Auckland, Jan 14 NZPA - United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is keen to reschedule her visit to New Zealand as soon as she can, says Foreign Minister Murray McCully.

Mrs Clinton called off her planned three-day visit to help coordinate US relief efforts in Haiti, where it is being reported the death toll could be as high as 100,000.

She has also postponed her visit to Australia, which would have been her next stop.

"We are facing a disaster of unknown magnitude...therefore I have decided to cancel the remainder of my trip and return to Washington," she told reporters in Hawaii.

"Thankfully, these are very good friends and they know that we wouldn't cancel unless it was for something of this magnitude."

Mr McCully said Mrs Clinton had made it clear to him her visit to New Zealand was in the nature of a personal commitment.

"She said she'd be working with our people to arrive at the earliest possible date to put the visit back in place and again asked me to convey her apologies...because she very much wants to make this visit," he said.

"She emphasised that it was a very reluctant decision which had been forced upon her, given that many American families have been caught up in the tragedy," he said.

Mr McCully said that because institutions in Haiti had been "pretty much rendered non-functional" the US was having to pick up a major leadership responsibility in terms of dealing with the tragedy, first of all undertaking an assessment and then trying to assemble relief and recovery.

"She indicated that the situation on the ground was pretty much unimaginably bad and she had little choice but to make sure that they pull out every stop to deal with it."

Mrs Clinton had been due to arrive in Auckland early tomorrow, meet Mr McCully and Prime Minister John Key, and speak at several functions during her visit.

Mr Key had hoped to discuss finding a diplomatic solution to end Japanese whaling in the southern ocean, which he will propose at next month's International Whaling Commission in Hawaii, and Mr McCully said that would have to be pursued with other people in the United States government.

"It would have been timely to pick up that topic with her, but we're in touch with other elements in the US system and we'll keep doing business as we always do," Mr McCully said.

"I'm still hopeful as the Prime Minister said yesterday, that we're going to see some progress there.

" It's always been a long shot, the whaling one, but it's worth putting quite a lot of effort into because everything else has failed. The diplomatic process is the only one that offers some prospect of significant progress."

Also on the agenda were discussions about the situation in Afghanistan, closer links between the US and Pacific countries, and possibly closer military cooperation between the US and New Zealand.

Mrs Clinton and Mr McCully were due to sign tomorrow an agreement allowing the two countries to exchange diplomats on secondment.

NZPA

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