7 Jan 2010

Hillary Clinton to visit New Zealand next week

6:00 pm on 7 January 2010

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit New Zealand next week as part of a three-nation trip to the Pacific.

The visit will be Mrs Clinton's first to the region since becoming the top US diplomat last year.

She will begin her trip next Tuesday in Hawaii with a policy speech on US engagement with the Asia-Pacific region before visiting Papua New Guinea to discuss the environment and women's issues.

Mrs Clinton is due to arrive in New Zealand on 15 January and will meet with Prime Minister John Key in Auckland.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says the visit will be a good opportunity to continue to advance the bilateral relationship with the United States.

Mr McCully says the agenda for the visit will include items of importance to New Zealand, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which has major trade implications, security issues and Antarctica.

Mrs Clinton will then travel to Australia, visiting Canberra and Melbourne. She will be joined by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates for the 25th Australia-US consultations on global and regional security challenges.

Afghanistan on agenda too

Mrs Clinton is also expected to discuss the Obama administration's plans to dramatically step up the war against Taliban militants in Afghanistan, where both New Zealand and Australia have troops.

US officials have urged allies to contribute more to a planned "surge". An extra 30,000 American troops are being sent to the region in an effort to shore up the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Reuters reports.

New Zealand has a 140-member provincial reconstruction team in Bamiyan province west of Kabul, and Mr Key has also committed to deploy about 70 members of New Zealand's elite special forces.

Australia has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan but has not indicated that it plans to send any more.