The United States has asked New Zealand to allow U.S. Navy warships to pay a port call in March, the Pentagon said yesterday, which could precipitate a crisis with the recently elected Labor Party government in Wellington.
Prime Minister David Lange has said his government will not allow nuclear-powered ships or ships carrying nuclear weapons to enter New Zealand ports. Since the United States never discloses whether a ship is carrying nuclear arms, New Zealand's stated policy in effect would bar all U.S. Navy ships.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz said last summer that New Zealand was jeopardizing the ANZUS alliance of Australia, New Zealand and the United States by closing its ports to the U.S. Navy. "What kind of alliance is it if the military forces are not able to be in contact with one another?" he said.
But Helen Clark, a Labor Party official who heads the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, said during a visit here recently that her government will not back down. She said any proposed ship-visit list would be rejected if it included nuclear-powered ships.
The Pentagon said yesterday that the United States lodged in December a blanket request for ship visits and this month submitted a specific list of ships, which it would not identify. No reply has been received, according to Michael I. Burch, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
An official in the New Zealand Embassy said his government will respond within several weeks. He said Lange's government does not agree with Shultz that a policy barring port calls negates the alliance.
U.S. ships will be in the area in March for an ANZUS naval exercise called Sea Eagle 1-85, the Pentagon said. New Zealand intends to participate in that exercise, according to its embassy.