1 Jun 2022

Jacinda Ardern meets US President Joe Biden at the White House

12:05 pm on 1 June 2022

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has met with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office, with the Pacific and Ukraine on the agenda.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC. Photo:

It was the first visit to the Oval Office by a New Zealand Prime Minister since John Key met with Barack Obama in 2014, and only the third such meeting in two decades.

In remarks ahead of the meeting Biden and Ardern spoke of the Pacific region, the war in Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and climate change.

Ardern described the relationship as warm and friendly, with shared values and shared challenges. She admitted to having a "political nerd moment" spending time at the White House, but said she did not let that get in the way.

"I'm greatly heartened by the nature of the conversation we had today."

Asked if New Zealand had been asked for a greater commitment to the US, she said there was "no need" because of the already strong working relationship.

Biden said New Zealand had been one of the United States' closest partners with a "long history of friendship", and said two of his uncles served in the Pacific in WWII.

"We last saw each other at the launch of the Pacific framework which is I think a fairly big deal for all of us," he said.

The pair had spoken on several occasions, but "really welcomed" the opportunity for the visit, Ardern said.

"You speak of your uncle's service in the Pacific. My grandfather served in the Pacific and I think that speaks to the personal connection, but also the depth of our friendship and relationship as two countries."

Watch: Jacinda Ardern on her meeting with the US President

Biden was complimentary about her leadership on the global stage, saying it had taken on a critical role.

"Galvanising action on climate change, global effort to combat violence, extremism online ... I want to work with you on that effort," he said.

Biden referred to his visit to Texas after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, and said much gun violence was preventable.

"I want to recognise New Zealand's significant support for Ukraine as a lot of Indo-Pacific countries are doing because this is more than just a regional war."

The prime minister expressed her condolences over the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, while Biden said the work Ardern was doing with the tech companies, specifically with the Christchurch Call, was really important.

Jacinda Ardern and Biden exchange remarks ahead of their meeting. Photo:

Biden emphasised that the US and New Zealand had to co-operate on issues including the Pacific.

"We are not coming to dictate or lay down the law - we have more work to do in those Pacific Islands as well," he said.

Ardern said the US had been proactive in its strategic approach to the Pacific, and it was important the regional focus remained on furthering Pacific values and ensuring self-determined leadership.

"That, I think, is really where New Zealand and the United States are in strong alignment in that regard: let the Pacific determine the future and work in partnership."

The meeting ran well over the allotted hour, and Ardern extended an invitation for Biden and his Vice President to visit New Zealand.

Defence cooperation

The leaders released a United States - Aotearoa New Zealand Joint Statement: A 21st century partnership for the Pacific, Indo-Pacific and the world which re-affirms and commits to advance the strategic partnership.

It said security and defence would become an ever more important focus of the partnership.

"As the security environment in the Indo-Pacific evolves, so must our defence cooperation", the statement said.

The two countries would look to increase interoperability of their forces, including through personnel exchanges, co-deployments and defence trade.

After the meeting Ardern said New Zealand was happy to join the IPEF, but wanted it to be meaningful.

"We believe it can assist with the removal of non-tariff barriers and seed greater economic cooperation and integration."

The IPEF, proposed by the US, offers no tariff relief to the countries that join, but provides a way to sort through key issues from climate change to supply chain resilience and digital trade.

Ardern stressed she had not given up on urging the US to rejoin the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) regional trade pact as "the best way the United States can support the economic resilience of our region".

"You will continue to see us advocate at every stage and you will have seen me do that through this trip through my engagement with representatives here on Capitol Hill continuing to advocate for ultimately the CPTPP as being a way to add greater economic resilience in our region."

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the trade deal in 2017, and President Joe Biden has never committed to re-joining.

In the meantime, Ardern signalled steel and aluminium tariffs imposed by Trump in 2018 on grounds of "national security" would be "looked into".

In a separate meeting, US Vice President Kamala Harris and Ardern welcomed the finalisation of negotiations of a Space Framework Agreement between the US and New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with US Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and US Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House. Photo: Joy Asico / Asico Photo

The meeting took place as China's foreign minister was in Tonga as part of a region-wide tour, and followed news that Beijing had signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands as it makes a push to grow its influence in the region.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered a speech earlier this week framing the geopolitical battle with China, saying despite the Ukraine conflict the US would "remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order - and that's posed by the People's Republic of China".

The leadup to the White House visit was not without logistical challenges, with three members of the New Zealand delegation testing positive for Covid-19.

Gifts for Bidens and Harris

New Zealand also offered gifts to Biden, Harris, and First Lady Jill Biden.

For the President, a carved swamp kauri bowl with kowhaiwhai patterning, a pounamu waihaka, and two Swandri dog jackets for the family's German shepherd dog Major.

Waihaka means 'mouth of the fish' and is a form of Māori club reserved for the most high-ranking leaders. The pounamu was sourced on the West Coast of the South Island, and crafted by a carver from Tairāwhiti.

A figure on the side known as a pūkaiora and a whiti head carved at the bottom of the handle act as kaitiaki or guardians of the owner.

Vice President Harris was given a pair of Zoe Porter gold and pearl earrings, and a hei matau fishing hook pendant.

The hei matau symbolises strength, good fortune, safe travels and a connection to the ocean; based on the story of Māui who fished up the North Island of New Zealand using a hook made from the jawbone of his grandmother.

It was also made of pounamu from the West Coast, and was crafted by Ngāti Waewae carvers.

The First Lady received a New Zealand merino and alpaca Stansborough scarf; and a book on education, Teaching for Complex Systems Thinking, by Rosemary Hipkins, the mother of New Zealand's Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

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