A U.S. Navy warship will visit New Zealand next month for the first time since the 1980s, ending a 30-year-old military stalemate between the countries that was triggered when New Zealand banned nuclear warships.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced Tuesday that he had given clearance for the destroyer USS Sampson to visit during celebrations marking the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary.
The visit marks a continued thaw in military relations between the countries that had turned frosty when New Zealand enacted its nuclear-free policy in the mid-1980s.
The policy prevents ships that have nuclear weapons or are nuclear powered from visiting. Because the U.S. won’t officially confirm or deny if its ships have nuclear capabilities, New Zealand had imposed a blanket ban on U.S. ships.
But Key said he’d taken advice from his own officials and was “100 percent confident” the USS Sampson wasn’t nuclear powered or carrying nuclear weapons.
“I think it’s a sign of the fact that the relationship between New Zealand and the United States is truly in the best shape it’s been since the anti-nuclear legislation was passed,” Key said. “All of those last vestiges of the dispute that we had have really been put to one side.”
Key said he didn’t think the result of the upcoming U.S. presidential election would affect the relationship.
The dispute began in 1985 when the New Zealand government refused to allow a U.S. destroyer to visit. The U.S. responded by downgrading its military relationship with New Zealand. New Zealand passed its nuclear-free law in 1987.
The relationship began warming again in 2003, when New Zealand sent troops to Afghanistan.
“I think the Americans have long since worked out that we are good friends of theirs, that we have a particular view when it comes to nuclear weapons and nuclear material,” Key said.