NZ PM Ardern labels US tour a success

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As she returns to New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern says her whirlwind 10-day trip to the United States has fulfilled all the objectives she set.

The prime minister wrapped up her lengthy US tour on Wednesday (AEDT) after meeting with President Joe Biden, becoming the first NZ leader to enjoy White House talks since John Key met Barack Obama in 2014.

Mr Biden lavished praise on Ms Ardern, calling her leadership "critical", before discussing regional security, gun law reform and more.

A joint statement issued from the meeting affirms a desire to "deepen economic ties", with New Zealand hoping the newly announced Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) can deliver improved trade outcomes.

The White House bilateral was an exclamation point to a busy tour.

On arrival, the prime minister visited three cities in three days, making a whistle-stop tour to the United Nations, the US Capitol and Harvard University.

She found time to squeeze in an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert before delivering a knock-out Harvard Commencement address, extolling the virtues of safeguarding democracy.

Then it was back to the west coast, signing a climate change pact with with California governor Gavin Newsom, and meeting with tech giants from Seattle to San Francisco.

Ms Ardern said she gave herself ticks for each of the three goals she set out.

"Firstly, we wanted to make sure that the United States knew that we were open for business and open for tourism and we have done that," Ms Ardern said.

"For our business and trade delegation, we wanted to open doors for them and strengthen some of the business opportunities here and based on their feedback, we've done that too.

"The third was to deepen those political engagements. So we've done what we came to do."

This was also a trip that was nearly called off.

Ms Ardern caught COVID-19 a week before the scheduled departure, leading to a re-jigging of plans just days before departure.

The visit to the White House - under strict pandemic protocols - was also not confirmed until half-way through the tour.

Back in New Zealand, there was skepticism in some quarters about the length of the trip, or its lack of "announceables" to use Ms Ardern's language.

Top-rating shock jock Mike Hosking has sniped at the trip for the last fortnight, and particularly before the White House visit was locked in.

"I'm not against her glad-handing a few tech wizards or meeting Gavin Newsom ... (just) don't call it a trade trip call it a 'where the bloody hell are ya' tourism caper," he said, echoing the infamous Australian tourism slogan.

Mr Hosking said the visit would "produce nothing", criticism which drew the ire of acting prime minister Grant Robertson back in Wellington.

"I'm really intrigued by the fact that all of a sudden we're having debates about whether a New Zealand prime minister going overseas is worth it," he said on Tuesday.

"Huge coverage from not only her appearances in the media in the US, but the speech at Harvard, and she's about to have a meeting with the president of the United States.

"I just don't know where the questioning of prime ministerial visits overseas is coming from."

The biggest downside to the trip may be another failure of the prime ministerial plane.

The Boeing 757 run by the military but utilised for overseas PM delegations is currently stuck in Washington DC in need of repairs before it flies home.

"It is disappointing that it's broken down," Defence Minister Peeni Henare said.

"It's got a history of those kinds of malfunctions but we're working on getting it right."

The plane has a history of failure.

In 2016, PM Key and 80 delegates were left stranded in Townsville en route to India due to a faulty switch, and in 2019, Foreign Minister Winston Peters was left stranded in Vanuatu by another malfunction.

There is little appetite among politicians to spend up on a replacement.

"The 757 has done a purposeful job on this trip. I think there's been 40 hours of flying, criss crossing America," Mr Roberson said.

On this occasion, Ms Ardern was not inconvenienced by the delay as she is flying home on commercial flights - unlike travelling media, who remain in Washington as they await repairs.

"They'll get home," Mr Robertson chuckled.

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