US Navy invitation signals softening of nuclear stance


A United States Navy ship is set to visit New Zealand for the first time since the rift over New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation.

The US Navy has been invited by the Government to attend the New Zealand Navy's 75th anniversary next year, potentially ending a 33-year stand-off between the nations.

"It's up to the Americans if they decide they want to do that," Prime Minister John Key says. "If they come, it's great, and I think many New Zealanders would celebrate that."

Up until now there's been a stand-off because New Zealand's anti-nuclear law says no nuclear-powered ships are allowed, and the Prime Minister must be satisfied warships are not carrying a nuclear explosive device.

The US position has been to neither confirm nor deny if nuclear weapons are on board and now the Government will let them stick with that policy.

Mr Key says if the US accepts the invitation, they won't have to confirm or deny – he just needs to be satisfied with official advice there are no nukes.

"The only way the [Ministry of] Foreign Affairs would provide that advice to me is when they are absolutely confident that that's the case," Mr Key says.

That should be easy, as it is widely known the ships don't carry weapons now.

"If you're sending a naval vehicle into our waters, it should comply with our laws and we should be able to have just a quick look around to be able to verify that what you're saying is true," Green Party co-leader James Shaw says.

"John Key has to give a cast-iron guarantee to New Zealanders that this is not a nuclear ship," Labour leader Andrew Little says.

New Zealand has made the first move in inviting the US here. If it accepts, an American navy ship in Auckland's harbour will be the ultimate symbol the ANZUS rift is over.

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