2 May 2016

Too early to formally back Clark - French PM

5:02 pm on 2 May 2016

Helen Clark is very talented, says French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, but it is too early for his country to formally support anyone in their bid to become the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, left, with Prime Minister John Key in Auckland.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, left, is on a two-day visit to New Zealand. Photo: RNZ/Kim Baker Wilson

However, his New Zealand counterpart, John Key, believes there is a real chance France could back Miss Clark's candidacy for the UN top job.

"There are five members that have the right to veto somebody, I think it's pretty fair to say there's absolutely zero chance of the French vetoing Helen Clark and a pretty good chance actually, under the right circumstances, they would support her."

Mr Valls had bilateral talks with Mr Key this morning after being welcomed in Auckland on a whistlestop visit.

Speaking through a translator, Mr Valls said Miss Clark has a lot of the skills France was looking for in a Secretary General, but there were many good-quality candidates.

"She is very talented, she obviously has great experience, and she is a very good candidate. Obviously, right now it is too early to have a formal opinion on the question."

Mr Valls said the Rainbow Warrior bombing in Auckland was not discussed in formal talks, but told media that France made a huge mistake.

Mr Valls is only in New Zealand briefly, and he and Mr Key also discussed his country's Pacific territories and responses to terrorism.

The pair also laid a wreath at the Cenotaph outside the museum.

It is the first visit by a French Prime Minister since 1991, when Michel Rocard came to apologise for the Rainbow Warrior bombing as part of a settlement.

A former diplomat said there was no guarantee the French government would back Miss Clark's bid.

Terence O'Brien told Morning Report the UN voting process was new and it was not clear how it would play out.

"The French won't give an assurance at this early stage, they will merely listen to what the government has to say. And presumably, then say 'we will wait to nearer the time and then we'll make up our minds'."

He said the French put a lot of emphasis on language skills and would prefer a Secretary-General who could speak French.

The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls being welcomed to the War Memorial Museum in Auckland

The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls being welcomed to the War Memorial Museum in Auckland Photo: RNZ/Kim Baker Wilson

Last night Sir Peter Jackson and photographer Fiona Pardington each received a Ordre des Arts et des Lettres - a prestigious award for the arts - from Mr Valls.

They were made Knights of the Order of Arts and Letters, an honour given both to French citizens and to anyone else in the world the French government deems worthy.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs