Britain and New Zealand at odds

Sir Geoffrey Howe, the British foreign secretary, has left the New Zealand government in no doubt of his country's support for the United States in its dispute with New Zealand over its antinuclear policies. Sir Geoffrey flew home Monday night after talks in which he bluntly told Prime Minister David Lange that New Zealand's policy of banning visits by nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships had diminished Western security around the world.

The British Royal Navy has halted visits to New Zealand because it holds that the ban on such ships would require breaking a long-standing policy neither to confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on its vessels.

Last August, the US suspended its security commitment to New Zealand under the 1951 ANZUS defense alliance that linked the two nations with Australia. Washington said New Zealand's ban on port calls disqualified it from full alliance membership.

Sir Geoffrey said Britain ``deeply regretted'' the rift in ANZUS and New Zealand's impending antinuclear legislation, which will enshrine the ships ban in law. ``Western security around the world is indivisible.... In the absence of complete trust and confidence, nuclear weapons will remain indispensable to that security,'' he said.

Mr. Lange rejected claims that New Zealand policies had undermined the Western alliance.

Sir Geoffrey warned that New Zealand, which is heavily reliant on the British market for its butter exports, could pay a price for its antinuclear stance in trading terms.

Next year, New Zealand has to persuade the European Community (EC) to renew arrangements allowing it to sell butter to that market. Britain traditionally has to argue its former colony's case with the Europeans, and Sir Geoffrey pledged it would do its best.

``But with your current defense policy,'' he said, ``it is a fact of life that your cause is less likely to prevail in a European Community, 11 of whose 12 members belong also to NATO.''

Sir Geoffrey said the task was difficult enough, with European farmers being asked to cut back their dairy production because of EC surpluses. ``It will be even harder so long as new Zealand maintains its present defense policy,'' he added.

Sir Geoffrey also had talks with the leader of the opposition National Party James Bloger, who promised to restore New Zealand to full ANZUS membership if he wins the election due by next September. Perhaps with an eye to that prospect, Sir Geoffrey said before leaving: ``We very much hope that it will be possible in the near future to remove this shadow over our relations.''

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