New Zealand Defense Minister Phil Goff welcomed Tuesday remarks of a senior U.S. official, saying New Zealand's anti-nuclear position should not hinder a wider relationship with the United States in the future.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, Christopher Hill, has indicated that he wants to see a closer defense relationship with New Zealand.
In an interview with The Australian Financial Review, Hill said that rather than trying to change each other's minds on the nuclear issue, which he describes as "a bit of a relic", the two countries should focus on things they can make work.
Goff said Hill had expressed the U.S. position "more clearly and forcefully" than he had seen before and he welcomed his comments.
Nearly 10 days ago, Goff also welcomed the support of two former senior United States officials for closer cooperation in defense with New Zealand, and their call for a Free Trade Agreement.
In an opinion piece published in the Asian Wall St. Journal, Richard Armitage, a former Deputy Secretary of State and senior Pentagon official, and Randy Shriver, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, called on the U.S. Administration to relax restrictions placed on defense cooperation in the 1980s as a result of New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation.
The cornerstone of NZ, U.S. defense cooperation, The Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty, was signed in Canberra on Sept. 1, 1951. It joined the three countries in a defense security pact for the Pacific region.
But Washington has degraded its relations with Wellington since New Zealand endorsed in the 1980s legislation of nuclear ban, including nuclear-powered ships.
Over the past nearly two dozens of years, the nuclear issue has been a deadlock, with Kiwi sticking to its stand and Washington shelving Free Trade Agreement, and joint military exercises, which was resumed only recently.
Goff said he agreed that "it is in both of our interests to ensure that the long-standing difference over nuclear policy does not impede mutually-beneficial cooperation in the areas of security and defense, where we have many shared interests."
Goff said he did not want to comment on Hill's description of New Zealand's nuclear legislation as a relic, though he had never made light of the nuclear-free disagreement with the United States.
"We feel strongly about it," said Goff, referring to New Zealand nuclear stand.
And New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark also said her government has no plan to amend anti-nuclear legislation.
She said this late last year regarding to the then departing U. S. ambassador Charles Swindells' lamentation the fact that New Zealand and the U.S. continue to drift apart over the policy.
Clark said she believed it is time the U.S. started judging New Zealand on "not just its anti-nuclear policy."
Business circle in New Zealand is also talking about how to work out a solution for the two countries to restore strong ties.
Charles Finny, CEO of the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce, said though the new relationship is going to take time to build, beyond the trade and economic, there is clearly joint interest in expanded links in areas such as alternative fuels technology, alternative energy sources, anti-terrorism, and collaborating on important topics such as the future of APEC, and indeed the future of the WTO.
"These are all incredibly important issues. And it is in everyone's interests to see New Zealand and the United States working together in these areas," said Finny.
He said there is just too much at stake here for the U.S. relationship to fall victim to short-term political point scoring. Both sides could choose to score points with their core constituencies should they wish.
"The fact that they haven't yet is extremely positive," said Finny.