NZ eases restrictions on US navy

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The Independent Online
ALL conventionally-powered United States warships are now welcome in New Zealand ports, following President George Bush's confirmation that their tactical nuclear weapons have been withdrawn, Jim Bolger, the Prime Minister, said yesterday.

But it appears that Washington still wants New Zealand to withdraw its legislative ban on nuclear-powered vessels before restoring a full security relationship and the formal 'ally status' it had before the former Labour government passed anti-nuclear legislation in 1986.

President Bush said the US had completed the withdrawal announced last September of more than 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons from its bases, ships and aircraft. He said: 'Our statement is still neither confirm nor deny, but where we've said we don't have those weapons on board, we mean it. So if that opens the door for others so much the better. I'm thinking of New Zealand and other countries where we've had great differences on this.' Mr Bolger responded: 'There is no reason now why such non-nuclear-powered vessels cannot call here.' He said he would not issue an invitation for a ship visit yet - 'it's entirely up to the US'.

John Major, the Prime Minister, said last year that there was no reason for British warships not to visit New Zealand after the removal of nuclear arms from Royal Navy vessels.

Both the Pentagon and the State Department made it clear that the US would still regard New Zealand as a former ally until it amended the anti-nuclear law.

Officials here said that they interpreted these statements as meaning that the US wanted New Zealand to lift its ban on port visits by nuclear-powered ships. Last year the government appointed a committee to look into the safety of nuclear-powered vessels with a view to amending the legislation. It is due to report in a few weeks.