I was privileged to attend the official UN Independence Day celebrations at the Duxton yesterday. It also served as a farewell for the outoing Ambassador, Charles Swindell.
The Ambassador made an excellent speech, that contrasted the US relationship with NZ and the US relationship with Vietnam. He highlighted that 30 years ago Vietnam and the US were at war, the worst possible dispute status between countries, and just last week the Prime Minister of Vietnam visited the President in the White House.
And the US/NZ dispute is 20 years old – only ten years less than the end of the Vietnam war, yet we have allowed it to drag on, with no real effort to solve it. Vietnam and the US have managed to put aside a brutal war, and yet we are fixated on a historic largely meaningless law.
The Ambassador was not stating NZ needs to simply amend the anti-nuclear law. He said that what is needed is both countries to talk directly and honestly without restrictions on how to put the dispute into the past.
I could not agree more, especially as the ban is almost entirely symbolic and of no practical effect. And I especially appreciated the Ambassador suggesting both countries had to take action, not just NZ, as this is the key. Basically the ban is meaningless and we just need a process where both countries can save face and move on.
It is a real shame that the reaction of the Labour Government has been to effectively reject this overture, by putting the legislation off limits. I am not saying one even needs to amend it to solve the dispute, but that making things non-negotiable before you even start the dialogue means that progress will never be made.
I can’t see the speech online which is a pity (I will happily stick up a copy here if someone from the Embassy sends me a copy) as people should read it in its full entirety.
UPDATE: The speech is now online at the US Embassy site. It is a very carefully considered speech and I hope people do not react kneejerk to it.