Key to meet President Obama

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 11:39 20/05/2014
TRADE UPDATE: John Key snatched a five-minute debrief with Obama on progress towards the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
ANDREA VANCE
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Prime Minister John Key says the United States is free to send a warship to New Zealand any time so long as it complies with New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation.

Key confirmed this morning he would travel to Washington next month for a meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House.

The White House said in a statement their talks would centre on the increasingly close relationship between the two countries including military cooperation.

There has been a step up in military relations between the two countries since the US dropped its long standing ban on defence exercises and training with New Zealand, a hangover from the Anzus bust-up over New Zealand's nuclear free stance.

The US has also lifted its ban on New Zealand warships docking at US military facilities after a backlash here over its refusal to allow a New Zealand frigate to tie up at Pearl Harbour during a major international naval exercise two years ago.

But in line with its long-standing "neither confirm nor deny" policy in relation to nuclear weapons the US has not sought to resume military ship visits since the 1980s.  That was when New Zealand refused entry to an ageing US warship, the USS Buchanan, because of the anti-nuclear legislation; even though it was considered highly unlikely the ship carried nuclear weapons.

NUCLEAR ISSUE HAS 'PASSED'

Key said today he did not know if or when there would ever be a resumption of port visits by the US navy and it was for the US to initiate that, not New Zealand.

"My own view is that the nuclear issue is well and truly passed now. Both sides understand each other's position but, you know, they would be free to send a ship here if they wanted to. They just have to meet the conditions that I'm required to sign as prime minister."

Key and Obama met in Hawaii over Christmas and they spent five hours on the golf course together. But Key said his meeting at the White House was important "from the relationship perspective" and it made sense once a parliamentary term for the New Zealand prime minister to have a more formal meeting.

FROM GOLF DIPLOMACY TO 'FORMAL FOOTING'

"A round of golf is a great opportunity and we spent five hours on the golf course and talked about lots and lots of things but this is the formal footing of the relationship.

"So this is the opportunity for us to run through the things that go formally on the record from the [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] perspective and from their relevant agencies and the State Department. So we're not high maintenance for the US.

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"We're not trying to argue to go up there every six months or 12 months like some countries do. But I reckon every three years makes a lot of sense."

- Stuff

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