US, New Zealand Mend Ties Despite Differences

Since 1987, the two faced off over Wellington's nuclear-free policies

ANOTHER remnant of the cold war has quietly fallen.

On Feb. 19, United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced that Washington would restore the high-level ties with New Zealand that have been cut since 1987.

The announcement follows a review of the relationship that began after the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Seattle attended by President Clinton and New Zealand Prime Minister Jim Bolger.

``Removing these constraints between the two governments is a positive step,'' Mr. Bolger said. ``It will enable us to have the kind of dialogue with our shared interests and values, on both bilateral and broader strategic issues.''

The rift between the two countries started when New Zealand, under an antinuclear Labour government, declared itself nuclear-free. The island state passed legislation forbidding ships that carried nuclear weapons or were powered by nuclear energy to enter its ports. Since the US refused to confirm or deny whether its ships violated either restriction, New Zealand denied access. So in 1987, the Reagan administration responded by cutting high-level contacts and military ties.

``We part company, but we part friends,'' said former Secretary of State George Shultz when the two sides reached a stalemate.

Two years ago, former President Bush announced that US ships would not carry tactical nuclear weapons. But the diplomatic constraints endured. Bolger, of the more conservative National Party (NP), has been looking for ways to end the spat.

The freeze removed New Zealand from the Australia-New Zealand-United States ``ANZUS'' treaty, a strategic security alliance between the three countries formed in 1951. But not all contact was severed. Trade expanded and low-level contacts continued. New Zealand's ambassador, however, was not given access to the president.

The resumption of these ties does not mean that either side has given way on its principles. New Zealand is not backing down on its antinuclear stand; domestic politics preclude the NP from tinkering with it.

``We continue to press for eventual change in those impediments that New Zealand has imposed,'' said a statement by the US State Department.

And the US still hangs on to its ``neither confirm nor deny'' policy, even though it has changed its policy about carrying nuclear weapons on ships.

``This is a thawing, but not a complete making up and moving on,'' says Kevin Clements, an analyst at the Peace Research Center at the Australian National University in Canberra. ``Hopefully, the thawing will result in a relationship that will be as close as it used to be while acknowledging that differences remain.''

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