Wikileaks: US tried to change nukes stand in 2005

Published in the  Sunday Star Times

THE WIKILEAKS cables reveal American ambassador Charles Swindell worked ahead of the 2005 election to pressure New Zealand into changing its nuclear-free policy.

In a February 22, 2005, cable he requested a government-wide review in Washington of strategies for changing the policy, including proposing “a feasibility study for a [free trade agreement] if New Zealand removes its nuclear ban”.

Swindell wrote that there were weightier US foreign policy issues to manage in Asia than the relationship with New Zealand, but: “I believe this country’s upcoming elections and its desire for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States make 2005 the best opportunity we have had in twenty years to convince New Zealand to reconsider its ban on nuclear-propelled vessels.”

At a Republican Party fundraiser for George W Bush’s presidential campaign, Swindell expressed frustration at New Zealand officials arguing the nuclear issue was too sensitive to discuss, and that: “As the world’s only superpower we should just get over it and stop `bullying’ this small country. The past is the past, they say.”

“I have stressed both in public and private to New Zealanders that the nuclear ban does still matter to us,” the cable says, urging more pressure.

He noted New Zealand’s participation in Afghanistan and elsewhere but said: “I believe pushing them harder on the nuclear issue would have little impact on New Zealand’s already limited willingness to engage with us around the globe.” He ended the Secret/NOFORN cable: “New Zealand may be small, but with a little bit of time and teamwork, I think we can steer the bilateral relationship in a direction that is more positive to US interests. Now is the time to try.” A year earlier, National’s leader Don Brash had told six visiting Republican senators if his party was elected the nuclear ban would be “gone by lunchtime”. When the minutes became public, Brash retreated. He went into the 2005 election saying there would be no change without a referendum.

On February 17, 2006, an embassy cable concluded: “Given the strong and widespread support for the anti-nuclear legislation” a public referendum on the issue “would almost surely fail”.

It said: “We know only one National MP – Chris Finlayson [now Attorney-General] – who thought National should change the legislation right after winning an election, without a referendum. But he also thought they should then shelve the issue by not encouraging or allowing any ship visits for a number of years.”

He said: “Even Finlayson seems resigned to the impossibility of changing the legislation any time soon.”