Wellington, New Zealand — New Zealand's next ambassador to the United States, Sir Wallace Rowling, will have his work cut out for him. When the former prime minister begins his duties late this year or early next year, he will play a key role in trying to smooth relations between the two countries, which have been strained by differences over nuclear policies.
It is a job he relishes.
His first contact with the US came in 1955, when he spent a year in Seattle on a Fulbright scholarship. Sir Wallace says he feels ''extremely friendly'' toward the US and adds: ''It's a very warm feeling to be going to a country that I know so well.''
But he was the principal architect of the new Labour government's antinuclear policy - a policy that threatens a crisis in New Zealand-US relations and raises doubts about the continued existence of the 1951 ANZUS defense alliance linking both countries with Australia.
As such, Sir Wallace is looking forward to being ''at the sharp end'' of negotiations aimed at settling the differences.
He describes the argument over nuclear policy as ''the one area of difficulty in the relationship.'' But, he told the Monitor: ''With the tradition of friendship between our two countries, I have no doubts that it can be satisfactorily resolved.''
The government elected in July wants to ban port visits to New Zealand by nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships and renegotiate the ANZUS pact to include economic, social, and political concerns.
The Reagan administration has said ANZUS cannot continue without visits to New Zealand by US Navy ships. And Secretary of State George Shultz has rejected any other role for ANZUS outside of a security agreement.
Mr. Shultz and New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange failed to resolve their differences when they met at the United Nations in New York last month. Mr. Lange, who is adamant that Labour's policy is antinuclear and not anti-American, has said discussions will continue.
The elder statesman of the Labour Party, Sir Wallace retired from elected politics at the July election after 22 years as a member of Parliament. His political career coincided with the heyday of the conservative National Party: Labour was in power for only three of those 22 years.
In those three years (1972-75), Sir Wallace was finance minister, taking over as prime minister and minister of foreign affairs in September 1974 when Labour leader Norman Kirk died in office. Sir Wallace was prime minister only 14 months , losing the November 1975 election and the next two elections in 1978 and 1981. He stepped down as party leader at the end of 1982, to be succeeded by Lange.
A farmer's son who became a teacher and put himself through university, earning a master's degree in economics, Bill Rowling is known as ''the nice guy'' of New Zealand politics.
He has been holding back on public statements since his appointment was announced, but Sir Wallace has said:
''I feel very much part of the government's strong antinuclear stance. I am confident we can work the matter through without New Zealand weakening its position by bringing the Americans to understand why we feel so strongly about this.''