A return to New Zealand waters by US Navy ships is desirable, as long as their visits do not breach our nuclear-free legislation, says one of the architects of the law.
Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who was deputy prime minister during the Lange years and the nuclear-free debate in the 1980s, says a lot of water has gone under the bridge since the controversial legislation led to New Zealand's exclusion from the Anzus military alliance with Australia and the US.
Changes to US nuclear policy in the 1990s, Friday's milestone deal to reduce Russian and US stockpiles of nuclear weapons and this week's shift in US military posture means old objections to ship visits no longer apply, Palmer says.
"I think New Zealand could have ship visits now. I think it is something you could get on the agenda without too much difficulty," he told the Dominion Post.
Palmer says that ship visits from the US are "desirable", if they conform with New Zealand law.
Under New Zealand legislation, the Prime Minister has to approve the fact that any warship that comes in is not carrying any nuclear explosive device, and is not nuclear-powered.
"I'm not suggesting that that be changed," he says.
"I'm just suggesting that ship visits could occur from almost any other nation that has a navy under New Zealand law, and there does seem to have been a change in American attitudes to the subject, and therefore the time may be propitious for this."
US Navy ships have always been allowed to enter New Zealand waters if they apply and meet New Zealand requirements.
Palmer's comments come as Prime Minister John Key heads to Washington for a summit which seeks to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
The summit is "vindication" of New Zealand's stance, Palmer says.
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