Obama in New Zealand for meetings, golf, but no public talks

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Former President of The United States Barack Obama waves as he prepares to board a helicopter in Auckland, New Zealand.

Former President of The United States Barack Obama waves as he prepares to board a helicopter in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo: AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Former President Barack Obama arrived Wednesday for a three-day visit to New Zealand, where he will speak with community leaders, meet the prime minister and play golf.

The sessions will be closed to the public and media except for an official welcome ceremony Thursday. Obama does not plan to answer questions from reporters.

Former presidents often choose to keep a relatively low public profile to avoid undermining sitting presidents. Still, the lack of public engagement has frustrated some in the South Pacific nation, who are eager to hear Obama's thoughts on his time in the White House and the turbulent presidency of Donald Trump.

Obama said in a statement that he had long wanted to visit New Zealand given its close friendship with the U.S.

New Zealand's former prime minister John Key helped organize the visit. Key said he'd formed a good relationship with Obama after eight years together at events like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. The pair also golfed together in Hawaii.

"I was kind of like the bait out there saying, 'Hey, come and play a couple of courses,'" Key told Television New Zealand. "And, obviously, he's doing other things while he's here."

Former President of The United States Barack Obama prepares to board a helicopter in Auckland. Photo/AP
Former President of The United States Barack Obama prepares to board a helicopter in Auckland. Photo/AP

The former president plans to participate in an Obama Foundation event with rising indigenous Maori women leaders and give a moderated talk to regional and business leaders.

"There's probably been a bit of frustration of 'Why can't everyone see more of him, why can't he do more?" Key said, adding that Obama's office was sensitive about not wanting to "trample over the new administration."

Asked if she will raise any concerns about President Trump when she meets with Obama, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she imagined Obama would be "extremely cautious" given that he was no longer in a political role.

Asked about the lack of access, Ardern said the disappointment was understandable. "I'll be happy to relay some insights after my meeting with him."

Obama arrived in New Zealand after visiting Singapore. He will next travel to Australia and then Japan.

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