Prime Minister David Lange, in an apparent bid to improve ties with the United States, said today that his government may change its policy banning visits by nuclear warships.
Lange's government currently bans ships that are nuclear powered or nuclear armed and will not permit warships to enter its ports without a guarantee from the respective government that the vessels do not fall into either category.
A serious rift developed in the 34-year-old ANZUS treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States earlier this year when Wellington refused permission for a U.S. destroyer to dock when Washington would not guarantee the vessel had no nuclear weapons aboard.
It is U.S. policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons aboard a ship. In retaliation for Wellington's refusal to allow the destroyer to dock, Washington canceled scheduled ANZUS military exercises, the alliance's annual summit and ended exchanges of military information.
Panel May Decide
Speaking at a news conference today, Lange said a committee of Cabinet ministers could be set up to determine whether ships seeking entrance into New Zealand ports were armed with nuclear weapons.
If that committee decided, based on information available, that the ships were not nuclear-armed, permission would be granted for them to enter New Zealand ports, Lange said. Such a policy would not force a foreign government to disclose information about the arms being carried on its warships.
Lange's party recently said it would seek to have the nuclear ban enacted as law to make it difficult for succeeding governments to reverse the policy.
Lange's comments today indicated that he wanted to avoid a policy that would further strain relations with the United States.