NZ premier defends new foreign minister

Prime Minister Helen Clark on Tuesday defended her new foreign minister amid a public sniping match with New Zealand's biggest newspaper and criticism of him from her political opposition. In an editorial last week, the New Zealand Herald slammed Winston Peters' appointment as foreign minister outside Clark's Cabinet, which means that he does not formulate the foreign policy he must represent.

"If he wants to pretend he is Foreign Minister the least he could do is contribute to the decisions he must defend. Otherwise he declares his job a sinecure, all status, no responsibility," the Herald said. Stung by that criticism, and upset that the newspaper had refused to publish comments he made at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in South Korea, Peters on Monday branded the Herald "a treasonous newspaper."

The Herald said it stood by its editorial and its reporting of the APEC meetings.

The opposition National Party leader, Don Brash, asked Clark in parliament Tuesday if she had confidence in Peters after his "wildly inflammatory, intimidating comments."

"Yes, because he is a hardworking and conscientious minister," she replied amid laughter from opposition benches.

Peters brokered the terms of his appointment in return for pledging the support of his nationalist New Zealand First's six lawmakers to Clark's third-term administration following September's general election.

Clark's decision to appoint him as foreign minister raised eyebrows in New Zealand, where Peters made his political reputation attacking Asian and Middle Eastern migrants and demanding cuts in immigration, reports the AP. I.L.

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