New Zealand FM visits for first time since '04 passport flap

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor says visit signifies that the two countries have opened a “new page” in their relationship.

March 2, 2010 05:17
1 minute read.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

lieberman threatening 311. (photo credit: AP)

Even as a mini-crisis was brewing with Australia over allegations that fake Australian passports were used in the Dubai killing of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, New Zealand’s foreign minister arrived here Monday, basically ending a strain in relations stemming from an attempt to fake a New Zealand passport six years ago.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after his arrival. He is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday.

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Ties between Wellington and Jerusalem soured in March 2004, after two Israelis were arrested for trying to fraudulently obtain passports. They were later convicted, fined $100,000 and served three months of a six-month sentence. They were then deported back to Israel.

The New Zealand government maintained that the two were Mossad agents, something Israel never publicly admitted.

New Zealand’s prime minister at the time, Helen Clark, froze relations with Israel, and said they would only be renewed after Israel issued an apology and a commitment that similar acts would not take place in the future.

Then-foreign minister Silvan Shalom sent a letter of apology, expressing “regret for the activities which resulted in the arrest and conviction of two Israeli citizens in New Zealand on criminal charges” and apologizing “for the involvement of Israeli citizens in such activities.”

McCully’s visit is the highest level visit from New Zealand since that incident.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the visit signified that the two countries had opened a “new page” in their relationship.

McCully is expected to sign an agreement with Lieberman Tuesday that will enable young Israelis – who often travel to New Zealand after their army service – to work while touring in the country.

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