Wellington, Oct 18 (IANS) The New Zealand government on Tuesday announced it had cleared the way for the first visit by a US Navy vessel since a rift formed between the two countries 32 years ago.
The USS Sampson, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, would attend the Royal New Zealand Navy’s international naval review in Auckland from November 17 to 22, Prime Minister John Key said in a statement.
“Under New Zealand’s nuclear-free legislation, I am required to be satisfied that any foreign military ship entering New Zealand is not nuclear armed,” said Key.
“I have granted this approval after careful consideration of the advice provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade,” he said.
“New Zealand’s legislation also does not allow ships which are nuclear propelled into New Zealand and the advice I received from officials is that the USS Sampson is not nuclear powered.”
“New Zealand looks forward to the USS Sampson’s participation in the international naval review to mark the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary. The visit is a further reflection of the depth of the bilateral relationship with the United States,” Key said.
Key and US Vice President Joe Biden, on the first visit by an American vice president to New Zealand since 1970, confirmed in June that the US Navy had accepted an invitation.
Peace activists have vowed to take to the seas to disrupt any US Navy visits.
Activists last attempted to block US Navy visits in the early 1980s, before the New Zealand government banned visits by nuclear armed and powered vessels.
The US froze New Zealand out of defence cooperation after the ban due to New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance, but the Washington and Wellington declarations of recent years have seen renewed military contacts.