Rumours Peters heading to N Korea

National leader Bill English and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern are set for talks at Parliament...
In his first press conference as Foreign Minister this month, Peters said: "We do not think that North Korea is an utterly hopeless case. Photo: Getty Images

Foreign Minister Winston Peters may be heading to North Korea as part of a trip organised by the US.

Peters has met with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson twice in recent days on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Manila, but early this morning would not be drawn on the details.

"I can't tell you about the details of it," Peters said after the meeting. "It's to do with this region and initiatives coming in the future but it would be remiss of me - the Prime Minister has been fully informed of it - to divulge what it was about until we know."

A tweet by US President Donald Trump is fuelling speculation that the meeting had something to do with a major forthcoming announcement. Before boarding Air Force One back to the US, Trump tweeted: "I will be making a major statement from the @WhiteHouse upon my return to D.C. Time and date to be set."

Tillerson called Peters to request the first meeting, and they held a second one yesterday. It is believed the meeting may have discussed plans to be taken into North Korea in a liaison role for the West.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit New Zealand next week. Photo Reuters
It is thought, that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was giving NZ a heads up on a major statement expected from the White House early on Thursday morning. Photo Reuters

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was equally reluctant to talk about the meeting.

"One would be unwise to predict the nature of any of President Trump's tweets," she said.

Tillerson and Peters were seated next to each other at a gala dinner earlier this week, and later chatted over a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

In his first press conference as Foreign Minister this month, Peters said: "We do not think that North Korea is an utterly hopeless case.

"We do not think for example that China is the reason why. We need to better understand that region and make our contribution. Albeit as a small country, but as an informed one."

Peters visited North Korea in 2007 during his last stint as Foreign Minister. He was part of a group trying to persuade the country to abandon its nuclear development programme in exchange for substantial economic development aid.

"We didn't succeed, but it was worth trying. We did though funnily enough get some success and ensured that 97,000 birds that transit North Korea to New Zealand - to Miranda - continue to get safe harbour because of those efforts. It was an unusual outcome, but maybe we can shoot higher this time and might possibly be successful."

Visits by bird conservationists to North Korea remained closed until Peters' 2007 visit. After being approached by Kiwi bird lovers, Peters raised the issue with North Korea officials who confirmed they would accept delegations from New Zealand.

The first was made in 2009, with three Kiwi bird enthusiasts completing a survey that provided the first shorebird information from North Korea. More visits have been made since then to count and watch birds.


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