US navy ship visit needs Key's sign-off

US navy ship visit needs Key's sign-off

New Zealand wants the US to come to the party to celebrate the Navy's 75th anniversary, but only if they can prove their ship is nuclear-free.

For the first time, a high-ranking US military official told Newshub it is considering sending a vessel to the festivities in November.

If it happens, it'll end a long-standing stalemate between the two countries following New Zealand's historic anti-nuclear movement. A US Navy ship hasn't sailed into a New Zealand port since 1984.

Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery, based in the Pacific Command in Hawaii, said relations between the two countries is "very strong". 

"A decision has definitely not been made, although it's under review," he said.

But the final call will be for Prime Minister John Key who will have to sign a declaration stating the ship doesn't have nuclear capabilities or weapons.

"We'd love them to come along. To do that they need to make sure they comply with New Zealand law because we're not changing that.

"If they can't comply with the law I can't sign the declaration and I can't sign the declaration if there's a chance it's incorrect because I would be breaking the law," Mr Key said at his post-Cabinet news conference.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade would give him a detailed briefing and declaration to sign on any ship the US could decide to send.

US Coastguard ships would comply with New Zealand law because they are not nuclear-powered or have nuclear weapons, Mr Key says.

Mr Key says there'll be a "reasonable chance" a US ship would visit, but couldn't guarantee it.

"It's a big celebration for us, a lot of our friends will be there, in fact probably all of our friends will be there so we'd like Americans to be there.

"I think it's a symbolic gesture and realistically our relationship with the US is in the best shape it's been in for a long time."

But Rear Admiral Montgomery was quick to point out that state of the relationship between the two countries shouldn't be judged on whether they decide to send a ship or not.

"Our contributions, our cooperation together in Central Command, in combat has been exceptional over the last two decades. Our work together to build relationships within Oceania, along with Australia, has been significant.

"So I certainly wouldn't put our military partnership through the prism of a decision of a ship visit," he said.