Brash refuses to confirm or deny nuclear comments

11.45am

National leader Don Brash today refused to confirm or deny that he told a United States delegation a National government would get rid of the nuclear ban by "lunchtime".

A National party report, issued yesterday, suggests New Zealand retain its current nuclear weapon ban, but in a bid to thaw relations with the US, replace the present legal ban on nuclear-propelled ships with a government policy ban instead.

It hoped that then the United States would never send a nuclear power ship to New Zealand to avoid embarrassing the Government.

In Parliament yesterday there were claims Dr Brash told a US delegation in Auckland: "If National was the government, we'd repeal the ban by lunchtime".

Dr Brash told National Radio this morning the meeting had taken place four months ago and he could not recall the exact details of the conversation.

He would not discuss the general nature of his comments.

"I am not willing to discuss a private conversation with them, because they made it clear they wanted the conversation to be off the record."

Asked whether voters should know if they were dealing with a politician who was willing to give such an assurance to another government, Dr Brash said people should see him as a "peacenik".

"They should know...that I am perhaps the ultimate peacenik. I registered as a conscientious objector as a young adult," Dr Brash told National Radio.

"I was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for much of my earlier life.

"I do not want to live a nuclear weapon-filled world."

Dr Brash said the party's report was a sensible way forward.

"We can maintain an effective ban on nuclear propelled ships visiting New Zealand, while easing the relationship with the US and if we can pull that off it is my strongly preferred outcome."

National said the policy ban suggested by the taskforce was similar to one which had been in place in Denmark for many years.

The document said that through the policy, Denmark had maintained a nuclear free ban, but without offending the US.

Nuclear powered ships had not visited Danish harbours since 1964, but visits by US non-nuclear ships had continued.

The document, written by a taskforce convened in November 2002 and chaired by former National deputy leader Wyatt Creech, said the legal status of the ban on nuclear propelled ships was the "major impediment" to improving New Zealand's relationship with the US.

Dr Brash said yesterday that replacing the legislative ban with a stated policy position against nuclear powered ships would require a public mandate.

It would only be implemented if it became an explicit commitment before the election or backed by a referendum.

Foreign Minister Phil Goff said Dr Brash lacked credibility.

"Don Brash said on Sunday to the New Zealand Press Association that he had no position on whether nuclear powered ships should come here. But I know for a fact that he told the American congressional delegation that under a National government the ban would be gone and he used the words 'by lunchtime'," Mr Goff said.

Dr Brash could confirm or deny what he said without breaching any confidentiality agreement as he didn't have to say what the US delegation told him, Mr Goff said.

"Why won't he tell New Zealanders what he is apparently prepared to promise to American senators?"

- NZPA

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