03 February 2015

Neither confirm nor deny

In 1985 following the New Zealand Government's rejection of a proposed US Navy visit to New Zealand by the USS Buchanan, the then Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer flew to Washington to try to defuse the growing diplomatic impasse over the country's anti-nuclear policy and its implications for relations with the US and the ANZUS alliance. In his 2013 memoir, Palmer discusses his meeting with US Secretary of State George Shultz:

The Secretary of State said at one stage in the conversation the most persuasive thing any American said to me during the whole visit. He told me he knew New Zealanders. They were from a small, law-abiding country with a very direct sort of democracy. They were not going to accept the ambivalences on the issue [of nuclear weapon-armed vessels] that were accepted by some of the Asian countries. Deception, lies and dissembling would not work with them. If New Zealanders said there would be no nuclear weapons in their ports, that is what they meant and that is how it would be. That is why he thought the US could not go down the road I was proposing. I felt, myself, that this was the most persuasive reasoning I had heard. The rest of the world would know too that we were forthright and direct. We would only let in ships without nuclear weapons and that would compromise American policy. It has been suggested that I was upset by Shultz's stance. I was not. I understood it. He was saying 'we can't go there. You will have to decide what to do now'. Some of the [New Zealand] diplomats may have felt I should have offered more, but there was nothing more in my brief to offer. It had been worked through thoroughly before I arrived. I knew from that moment there was no way through, and although efforts went on for months they all came to nothing, as I knew they would.
- Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Reform: a memoir, VUP, Wellington, 2013, p.481.

The Fourth Labour Government would go on to enact the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987, which remains in force.
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