7 Jun 2017

Little criticises Trump but wouldn't 'flip the bird'

9:10 am on 7 June 2017

Labour leader Andrew Little has slated the US President Donald Trump as clumsy and ham-fisted during a visit from a top-ranking member of his administration.

Prime Minister Bill English, left, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at a news conference following their bilateral meeting in Wellington on 6 June 2017.

Prime Minister Bill English, left, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo: RNZ / Hans Weston

Mr Little spoke to Morning Report's Susie Ferguson today, the day after United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's official visit.

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Mr Little met with Mr Tillerson after the Secretary of State's bilateral talks with Prime Minister Bill English and Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee over American engagement in the Pacific region in bilateral talks yesterday.

Mr English refused to acknowledge the elephant in the room - Mr Trump's leadership style.

America's top diplomat and a former Exxon-Mobil chief executive, Mr Tillerson was in the country for five hours to talk about terrorism and regional security, trade and climate change.

His visit came amid growing mistrust over the Trump administration, which has withdrawn from key international agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Paris Climate Accord, since taking office.

As well as Mr Trump's unfiltered social media remarks which have stirred up more controversy and distraction.

On Monday, Mr Trump criticised London mayor Sadiq Khan on Twitter after the terror attack near London Bridge.

Mr English said he had not seen the tweets and he did not think it was a matter that needed to be raised in the meeting, nor did he think it was a good idea to talk about Mr Trump's leadership style.

Andrew Little at Waitangi

Andrew Little said it was not every day there was an opportunity to talk about Donald Trump's tweets with someone who was so close to the president. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

But Mr Little, who also met with Rex Tillerson, said he had not held back.

"Just talked about the idiosyncratic nature of the leadership and the impact that's having on world affairs and international relations," he said.

Mr Little said Mr Trump's leadership style did bother most New Zealanders in that it was not helping international relations and a sense of peace and security around the world.

He said Mr Trump's tweets to the mayor of London were "clumsy and ham-fisted", and it was not every day you got a chance to bring that up with someone so close to Mr Trump.

"If you value the relationship with the US, as I think New Zealanders do, I think it is right to say you've got a president that is kind of doing some weird stuff."

However, he said it was important to be cordial in dealings between the two nations.

"It's not something I would go around doing, certainly not as leader of the opposition. I doubt that I would do it if I wasn't leader of the opposition.

"The relationship with the US is an important one and it is possible to disagree and express out various disagreements and still be cordial with each other, and that's the way that we ought to conduct those relations."

Generally after a high-level state visit of this kind, the Prime Minister extends an invitation to the leader of that country to visit.

But Mr Trump won't be receiving one when Mr Tillerson returns to the White House - Mr English said it was too close to New Zealand's general election.

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