Wales politics

Nato summit 'huge opportunity' for Wales, US ambassador says

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Media captionUS Ambassador Matthew Barzun was making his first official visit to Wales

The new US ambassador to the UK has said next year's Nato summit in Newport is a huge opportunity to market Wales to America and the wider world.

Matthew Barzun was speaking to BBC Wales at the Senedd in Cardiff during his first official visit to Wales.

On the recent controversy over US surveillance activities worldwide, he said he thought a public debate was needed about how the powers were used.

The UK's first Nato summit since 1990 will be held at the Celtic Manor.

Owned by Welsh billionaire businessman Sir Terry Matthews, the resort previously welcomed high-profile American guests in 2010 as the venue for golf's Ryder Cup.

The decision to host the 2014 Nato summit in Newport was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron last week.

It is likely to mean the first official visit to Wales by a sitting American president.

Mr Barzun said: "I think this Nato summit next fall is going to be a major moment ... because it just puts it in the international spotlight. Certainly all these Americans are going to be looking at Newport, at Cardiff, at all of Wales.

"It's just a wonderful opportunity to showcase what's happening here, economically, in the realm of education, the environment, all the stuff that Wales is engaged in.

"These are critical issues for us back home in the States, and sitting in this magical place here [the Senedd] designed by Richard Rogers, who I've gotten to know in London, this building is modelling the kind of transparency and democracy that is so important here in Wales and so critically important back at home."

Mr Barzun, at 43, is the youngest-ever US ambassador to the UK and has been in the post for just two months.

He was given a tour of the Senedd by Presiding Officer Rosemary Butler and was also meeting First Minister Carwyn Jones for the first time.

'Diplomatic channels'

Mr Barzun was asked by BBC Wales political editor Nick Servini about the impact of recent revelations of phone tapping and surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the effect on diplomacy.

The ambassador said President Obama took the matter "very seriously", pointing out that the President and his team had talked about it publicly and through diplomatic channels.

"What he says is that it's really important that we try to find this balance - the balance between protecting the legitimate security concerns of America and its allies on the one hand, and at the same time respecting the privacy concerns that all people around the world share," Mr Barzun said.

"How do you find that balance in a world that's changing technology-wise incredibly quickly?

"That's why he's called for a White House-driven review of what we're doing and why and that will be delivered to him by the end of this year."

Mr Barzun also said that ensuring close economic cooperation between the US and the UK was a big part of his job.

Wales has several high profile American firms with significant facilities including Dow Corning in Barry, GE Aircraft in Nantgarw near Caerphilly and Ford in Bridgend.

"It's a big part of our work at the embassy to promote not only trade but direct investment," the ambassador said.

"Also - how do we get great Welsh companies to expand their operations in the United States, because there's great creativity and innovation happening here and they want to grow their markets, to build production facilities, sales offices, things like that in the United States."

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