19 Sep 2016

Old rivalries put aside as PM backs Clark's UN bid

7:02 pm on 19 September 2016

There was no sign of the fierce political rivalry that used to exist between Prime Minister John Key and his predecessor, Helen Clark, as they met to "talk tactics" in New York.

Mr Key is there for the United Nations Leaders Week and will also chair a meeting of the Security Council called to discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria.

But he will also use it as an opportunity to keep pushing for Miss Clark as the next UN Secretary General.

Miss Clark, head of the United Nations Development Programme, confirmed her intention to stay in the race for the UN's top job, despite slipping to eighth place of 10 candidates in the latest poll.

The straw poll aims to whittle down the candidates by giving them an idea of how much support they have from Security Council members. Though Miss Clark fell one place, she received fewer 'discourage' votes from the 15 Security Council members than in the last poll.

After today's meeting, Miss Clark said she would continue the campaign and was hopeful some of those above her in the poll rankings would drop out.

The former prime minister thanked the New Zealand people and the government for their "absolutely incredible support" through a "volatile" and "protracted" polling process.

"I haven't seen any other candidate have this level of support from the home team, so I really deeply appreciate that."

She said her strategy had been to stay in the race.

"And when there's the 'shoot-out at the OK corral', to be standing then as an option."

Miss Clark said at some point there was going to have to be some kind of compromise.

"The person who wins may not be anybody's first choice.

"I have never presented as the candidate of any permanent five member [of the Security Council], I have presented as an independent Kiwi candidate, making the point that the UN will need strong leadership to be successful in tackling the challenges the world faces."

Mr Key said he would use this week to continue to lobby world leaders on Miss Clark's behalf, saying he and the government would back her as long as she wanted to continue.

"We have consistently said very strongly we believe Helen Clark is the best person for the job, that the United Nations actually needs to step up and pick a candidate that can actually do the right thing by the organisation and by the countries they represent."

There was a flash of the old political relationship with Mr Key quipping that if they were still on opposite sides of Parliament, they would still have disagreements over policy, and that most New Zealanders would still agree with him.

Ever the diplomat, Miss Clark would not be drawn on any comment about the leadership of her former party, Labour, under Andrew Little.

She said there would be another straw poll the Monday after next, and then the contest would go on to the "determinative" balloting process where the permanent members, with the right of the veto, show their hand.

The Syria subject

Mr Key expressed concern over the bombings in Syria but said he believed constructive talks could be held over the week.

He said it was "highly likely" the US would be represented by John Kerry and Russia by Sergey Lavrov at the Security Council meeting on Syria, scheduled for Wednesday (New York time), and they would be encouraged to make some opening statements "right from the get go".

"And explain what the ceasefire they've negotiated is all about, what their vision is for a pathway forward and what actually needs to happen."

He said what was required was for countries to articulate what needed to happen to create a binding agreement and "put Syria on the pathway of a credible country and people could actually return".

Mr Key understood feelings between the US and Russia were running high, he said.

"Look there's obviously a lot of tired people and a lot of frustration and probably a bit of anger in terms of what's taken place, but on the other hand this has been a very long and brutal war, effectively.

"In the end the requirement to find some way through this crisis has to outweigh the fact that there's been an unfortunate incident where the Americans have got it wrong."

Miss Clark said it was a huge issue

"It's a very polarising issue on the Security Council and I think it will take the wisdom of Solomon to see this through and have a successful session ... but full marks to the New Zealand team for putting that on the agenda as something they really want, at leader level, the Security Council to focus on," she said.

Four air strikes have hit rebel-held parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, according to activists - the first raids there since a ceasefire began last Monday.

Russia has said the future of the truce is in doubt after the US-led coalition struck the Syrian army in Deir al-Zour.

Meanwhile, according to the BBC Australia has acknowledged its warplanes took part in the US-led raid in Syria, which Russia said killed dozens of Syrian government soldiers.

Australian Defence officials have confirmed the country's air force planes took part in the attack but they have not said in what capacity.