Obama praises New Zealand's nuclear efforts

Prime Minister of New Zealand Key talks with US President Obama at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.
Prime Minister of New Zealand Key talks with US President Obama at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.

US President Barack Obama said New Zealand had "well and truly" earned its place at the table for top level discussions on nuclear security, Prime Minister John Key said today.

Speaking after a working dinner with 40-plus world leaders at President Obama's nuclear security summit in Washington, Mr Key said New Zealand could offer leadership on the nuclear issue.

"We've got to the position....President Obama would like to see the rest of the world," Mr Key said, referring to New Zealand's nuclear-free status and the US leader's drive to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles.

The world's leaders tucked into a mozzarella entrée, Beef Romain and an apple tart for dessert after posing for photographs with Mr Obama at the Washington convention centre where the two day conference is being held.

The American beef was "delicious" but not quite as nice as New Zealand beef, Mr Key insisted.

United States President Barack Obama has made significant progress on nuclear issues and New Zealand was happy to lend its anti-nuclear credentials in support, Prime Minister John Key said earlier.

Mr Key is in Washington attending President Obama's nuclear proliferation summit, the largest assembly hosted by a US leader since the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945.

Mr Obama wants the more than 40 world leaders attending to confront the threat of nuclear arms falling into the hands of terrorists - a  spectre he labels "the single biggest threat to US security''.

His goal at the two-day summit is an international agreement to secure vulnerable nuclear material within four years and to take specific steps to crack down on nuclear smuggling.

A year ago in Prague, Mr Obama kicked off action on the issue when he laid out plans for significant nuclear reductions and a nuclear-weapons-free world.

Mr Key was personally invited to attend the summit.

"It's important to recognise the significance of this summit,'' Mr Key said. ''...just the sheer fact they are holding the summit gives you a sense of how important this is for the US President. We all need to acknowledge the progress made so far.''

Just before the conference opened the White House announced Ukraine was giving up all its highly enriched uranium, marking success for a major US arms control initiative.

That followed an earlier bilateral agreement with Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals.

"There's a lot of progress that's been made so far but there's no question that this is an issue of great import personally to the president of the United States and there is no question that New Zealand has been invited to this conference because of our credentials in this area,'' Mr Key said.

"We are probably the only country in the world that's legislated for a world free of nuclear weapons and there's no question that is the long-term ambition of this United States president.''

Mr Key would rub shoulders with the president during the summit, which would see leaders form smaller groups for discussions. The prime minister was also expecting a one-on-one chat with Mr Obama some time over the next 24 hours.

Mr Key said he would not bang on about New Zealand's record in the area during the sessions which would be "interactive and reasonably free flowing'' rather than set prepared speeches being delivered.

"While everyone understands New Zealand's history in this field, I think it's important, I can allude to it, but I don't think the argument at this point is to argue everybody should follow the same pathway that New Zealand has, but to point out that I think that a world free of nuclear weapons is a world that we should all want to see and that the threat of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands, whether that be a rogue state or a rogue organisation like al Qaeda is a very real threat and it poses potentially catastrophic outcomes for all of us.''

Nuclear non-proliferation experts have said there are no known instances of terrorist groups obtaining highly enriched uranium or plutonium that could be used to make a crude nuclear bomb, but note there have been 18 cases of nuclear material being stolen or going missing since the early 1990s.

Mr Key said New Zealand supported the US the Nuclear Posture Review revealed last week. The review states that the US would not deploy or threaten use of nuclear weapons against a country that possesses no nuclear weapons of its own and complies with the nonproliferation treaty and its obligations.

Previously countries with chemical or biological weapons were included.

New Zealand was also supportive of other initiatives including via the G8 and had contributed funds.

The US is the only country to have used nuclear weapons against an enemy, two bombs dropped on Japan to force its surrender in World War 2.

- With NZPA