Two former US officials talk up NZ

Stuff (New Zealand)

Two former US officials talk up NZ

27 April 2006

Two former senior United States officials have urged the US to re-start military exercises and start negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with New Zealand.

Richard Armitage, a former US deputy secretary of state, and Randy Schriver, a former US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, have made their view clear in an opinion piece published in the Asian Wall Street Journal on April 24.

In the article, the former officials say decades-old US policy might be stopping the relationship between the two countries from reaching its full potential.

The relationship was burdened with constraints because in 1986 New Zealand implemented its anti-nuclear policy, which banned visits by ships carrying nuclear weapons or powered by nuclear reactors, they said.

The US had responded by suspending its security obligations, in particular its previous commitment to come to New Zealand’s defence in the event of an attack.

"We’re not arguing with that decision. But this should not preclude military co-operation in other areas," Mr Armitage and Mr Schriver said.

Due to US regulations, New Zealand could not participate in any exercise or seminars with the American military without top-level waivers.

These rules applied even if exercises were held in a third country. Third countries were often reluctant to invite the New Zealand Defence Force as a result.

"We feel this no longer serves American interests."

The US was thinly spread in various missions around the world "and could use all the help it can get".

They listed New Zealand’s contributions, including to Afghanistan and Iraq, and said the US could do with New Zealand’s help in shoring up stability in the South Pacific where New Zealand had participated in peacekeeping missions to the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

They also said bilateral trade remained constrained by the 1986 decision.

"Washington’s refusal to commit to negotiations with Wellington on a free trade agreement gives reason to suspect that US officials are viewing this issue through the prism of nuclear policy," they said.

"This is another example of wasted potential."

They participated in the partnership forum in the US last week that promoted awareness of the benefits of a FTA.

"Unfortunately, the collective mood was not optimistic."

This was despite the fact New Zealand had been a reliable partner in the promotion of free trade.

"A properly structured FTA would benefit both economies," the men said.

A FTA with New Zealand would complement the one with Australia.

"Regardless of US disagreements with New Zealand on the nuclear issue, there is no need to take an overly punitive approach especially when it harms Washington’s own interests," the men wrote.

Defence and Trade Minister Phil Goff welcomed their support for closer co-operation in defence and their call for a FTA with New Zealand.

He said their support added to the "growing constituency" of support New Zealand was building up in Washington.

source: stuff