PM Jacinda Ardern and NZ’s Ambassador in the US, Rosemary Banks. Photo / Christian Carroll
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will have her long-awaited White House visit with US President Joe Biden early this morning – the first by a New Zealand Prime Minister in almost eight years.
Ardern and Biden are due to meet in the Oval Office at about 3am NZT – Biden will make some comments before the meeting begins in private and Ardern is expected to speak to media about an hour later.
Ardern will meet with Vice President Kamala Harris beforehand and her Biden meeting will also include US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Kurt Campbell, Biden’s Indo-Pacific Co-ordinator.
Ardern said yesterday she did not expect the meeting to deliver any new concrete measures, but her first face to face with Biden was important for the relationship between the two countries.
Ardern has spoken to Biden twice by phone or Zoom since he was elected President but said “but there’s nothing quite like meeting face to face”.
“Now we have the opportunity to do it in his space, at the White House.”
“That very first call where we immediately discussed his connection to the region through his family, his visit to New Zealand, already it was at a level we were building connections.”
“Tomorrow is not about announceables, it’s not about new initiatives. It’s actually about that relationship but I already consider it to be a good one.”
Ardern said there were a number of issues on the agenda, including the war in Ukraine and China and the US engagement in the Pacific.
The meeting takes place as both countries woo Pacific nations, seeking greater economic and security ties with them.
Ardern urged the US to be more consistent in its approach to the Pacific region and build long-term relationships rather that waxing and waning in interest.
“What is important is that all of our relationships in the Pacific need to be built in their own right, not because another country is present. This cannot be all about China.”
New Zealand also wants the US to join the CPTPP trade pact, but Ardern said she would be urging Biden to at least give his Indo Pacific Economic Framework some teeth in removing barriers for trade to the US.
She is also expected to discuss New Zealand’s gun reforms – Biden and Harris are pushing for a ban on military-style rifles as part of the response to the Texas shootings, as well as background checks on firearms users.
The road to the White House has been a bit bumpy – Ardern’s recent infection with Covid-19 meant it had to be postponed from earlier in her trip for a few days, extending her trip.
Three key members of her delegation have also now tested positive for Covid just days before the meeting was due to be held: including Chris Seed, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Andrew Campbell, her chief press secretary, and one of her advisers.
The rest of the delegation and media have had to have a PCR test yesterday and a rapid antigen test just before going to the White House.