22 Dec 2010

Clark denies claims in cable

4:45 pm on 22 December 2010

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark says she is incensed by claims that she sent troops to Iraq in 2003 to ensure Fonterra retained 'Oil for Food' contracts.

The suggestion was made in a diplomatic dispatch made public by WikiLeaks.

The cable quotes unnamed, senior Defence officials as saying the motive behind sending engineers into Basra was to make sure Fonterra did not lose its United Nations Oil for Food contracts.

Two rotations of 61 engineers spent a year in Iraq from September 2003, performing engineering and humanitarian tasks.

Miss Clark strongly denies the claim and says the WikiLeaks cables can not be taken seriously.

She says the Government of the day was responding to a request by the UN Security Council to provide assistance in Iraq and that was why troops were sent.

A full interview with Miss Clark can be heard on Radio New Zealand National on Monday morning.

Comment by Cullen Goff

The cable says then-Finance Minister Michael Cullen raised the issue of the Fonterra contracts, and the risk of losing them, during Cabinet discussions on sending troops to Iraq.

Dr Cullen backs Miss Clark's account, saying he never raised the Fonterra contracts, nor would it have been within his portfolio responsibilities to do so.

Labour's then-Foreign Minister, current party leader Phil Goff, says he would have remembered if Fonterra contracts had been discussed.

He denies it was ever raised in Cabinet, or anywhere else.

However, Green MP Keith Locke says that while the denials are somewhat reassuring, he's not totally convinced the content of the cable was completely inaccurate.

Fonterra is refusing to comment on the claim. It says it doesn't discuss its commercial contracts, past or present.

A Fonterra spokesperson says it had no knowledge of the government conversations at the time, nor would it have expected to.