WASHINGTON: United States President Barack Obama told John Key that New Zealand had well and truly earned a place at the table of the nuclear security summit that finishes in Washington this morning.
Mr Key revealed the conversation yesterday at the end of a heavy-duty day of politics in which he met Vice-President Joe Biden at the White House and talked free trade with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack over lunch before joining 46 other leaders to discuss nuclear matters.
President Obama will this morning outline measures intended to place greater control over fissile material and reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism.
He is also expected to confirm that the summit will be an ongoing event to be held again in two years.
Ukraine has announced that it will get rid of its stocks of highly enriched uranium - which can be used in nuclear weapons - by the next summit. And Chile has already divested itself of its stocks.
Mr Key, who has never been ardently anti-nuclear, appears ready to take a stronger stand on the issue in the interests of global security and strengthening bonds with the United States.
"We are clearly a country that has got a strong history in this area and that could be used long-term, actually, to sway international opinion," he said.
He refrained from mentioning New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation in the statement he tabled at the summit but delighted in comments made privately by Mr Obama and Mr Biden in praise of New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy.
Mr Obama welcomed the involvement of New Zealand in the summit "and thought we had well and truly earned our place at the table", Mr Key said.
Mr Biden had thought New Zealand could play a "leadership role working with other countries demonstrating that the world free of nuclear weapons could be a better place".
Asked whether the summit was ignoring some of the big problems such as the nuclear growth of India and Pakistan and China's nuclear programme, Mr Key said all those countries were involved and that was a good step.
"If we start off by either accusing countries or trying to box them into a corner we won't make progress."
Mr Biden said he had talked to Mr Key about Iran, though Mr Key did not portray it as actively lobbying for new Security Council sanctions for refusing to stop its highly enriched uranium programme.
Mr Obama and President Hu Jintao of China had a bilateral meeting at which they discussed Iran. China now appears less opposed than it has been towards sanctions.
Mr Key also had bilateral meetings with Chile, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The Prime Minister said he had passed on New Zealand's condolences to Chile after its devastating earthquake and said that New Zealand's private sector, particularly housing, could play a role in a rebuild estimated to cost US$ 20 billion.