New Zealand approves first visit by U.S. warship in decades

October 17, 2016 10:01 PM EDT

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. destroyer Sampson has been cleared to dock next month in New Zealand, the first visit by a U.S. warship since the Pacific nation passed anti-nuclear legislation 30 years ago.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer is expected to attend the Royal New Zealand Navy's 75th anniversary celebrations from Nov. 17 to 22, after Prime Minister John Key approved the visit.

Under New Zealand's nuclear-free legislation, the prime minister can only grant approval if he is satisfied any foreign military ship entering New Zealand is not nuclear-armed.

"I have granted this approval after careful consideration of the advice provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade," Key said on Tuesday.

The government extended an invitation during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's July visit to New Zealand.

In the mid-1980s, the Labour government of the time announced its decision to ban ships that were either nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed.

The United States would not say if its ships had nuclear capability, leading to a stalemate between the two nations.

The United States and Australia viewed the move as a breach of the three-way ANZUS treaty, which dates back to 1951. In 1986 the United States suspended treaty obligations to New Zealand.

Despite the rift, the nations have remained close allies. New Zealand supported the U.S.-led war on terror in Afghanistan and has sent soldiers to help train Iraq's armed forces.

(Reporting by Rebecca Howard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)



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