WASHINGTON - New Zealand and the United States are very good friends but will not be classed as allies due to New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said today.
Mr Powell and Prime Minister Helen Clark met this morning (NZ time) ahead of her historic meeting in the White House with US President George W Bush, scheduled for 8.30am.
After his meeting with the prime minister, Mr Powell told the media the two countries had agreed to disagree on nuclear issues, while focusing on common interests.
But "there is a disagreement that continues".
Pressed about whether the two countries could be considered allies, he said no, but "we are very, very, very, close friends".
He was pleased he could thank the Prime Minister personally for New Zealand's contribution to the war in Afghanistan, Mr Powell said.
Despite a growing warmth between the two countries, the fallout from the New Zealand ban on nuclear power and weapons still haunted the relationship.
"I have an understanding of the New Zealand position, and the Prime Minister understands ours," Mr Powell said.
NZPA understands trade issues were discussed at the meeting with Mr Powell, including the contentious issue of US steel tariffs.
However, those issues were not dealt with in any depth as they were to be discussed later with President Bush.
Miss Clark's first meeting this morning was with Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Mr Wolfowitz was instrumental in President Ronald Reagan's move to isolate New Zealand after its nuclear ban in the 1980s.
No details from that meeting were immediately available.
Also during the morning Miss Clark laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. It was a symbolic gesture showing that despite political differences, New Zealanders had fought and died alongisde the US in every major conflict during the last century.
Miss Clark's staff said she was "exasperated" by media reports that former prime minister David Lange believed US vice-president Dan Quayle had told the Australian cabinet in 1989 that he would have to be liquidated. Quayle served under president George Bush, father of the current president.
She considered it to be "historical", they said.
US State Department staff laughed at the reports. It was not policy "to assassinate leaders of friendly countries" one official said.