John Key was privileged to be one of the chosen when Barack Obama invited him to the nuclear mini-summit in Washington. Obama said we had truly earned our place. New Zealand's nuclear-free policy and banning nuclear warships is now praised in Washington circles. It seems we are a plucky wee nation with principles and well ahead of our time.

There's dark hypocrisy, of course, in that it's a National Party leader who gets to wallow in the limelight and get "smugness rights". For 20 years, Key's party opposed our nuclear-free stance. Just five years ago, the previous National Party leader was promising the Americans in confidence our ban on nuclear ships would be "gone by lunchtime".

It's a similar irony to when another National Party predecessor, Jim Bolger, swanned off to South Africa to ingratiate himself with President Nelson Mandela. Bolger was in Muldoon's cabinet, which branded Mandela a terrorist and unleashed the infamous police Red Squads to baton those of us who protested against his support for apartheid.

Frequently, things in global politics are very different from reality. Obama's proposal to rid the world of nuclear weapons is almost identical to the policy of the 80s Republican President Ronald Reagan. This week's deal signed with Russia to mothball a large part of their armoury is pretty much what those two countries did under Republican administrations.

However, it's a big deal getting the players around the table making commitments to roll back nukes. The threat of proliferation is bigger than it was during the Cold War. No one really believed the major players would use them. It's different now. Some of these nut-job terrorists would set a bomb off if they got their hands on one. We have 10 nations with nuclear arsenals and at least three of them are prepared to use them in a first-strike strategy. Everybody is rightly terrified of the consequences if we don't contain the nuclear threat. After the break-up of the Soviet empire, no one with hand on heart can account for all the bomb-making materials.

No sane nation wants a nuclear capability falling into the hands of a group like al Qaeda through their negligence. That reality made them make real concessions at this week's summit.

No doubt a major strategy for the summit is to further pressure and isolate Iran's determination to build a nuclear capacity. From Iran's point of view, it justifiably feels unfairly targeted by the other major players, which all possess nuclear weapons. The threats by Israel that it reserves the right to attack Iran would just make the mullahs even more determined to get nukes. Israel, of course, has close to 100 undeclared nuclear warheads. The Israeli Prime Minister refused to attend Obama's summit and won't sign any international treaties or accept any restrictions. Yet the West accepts its defiance.

Pakistan is far more politically unreliable and unstable than Iran and its nuclear arms are condoned. The lunatics who run North Korea get away with all sorts of mischief because it actually does possess several atomic bombs and is crazy enough to use them if attacked.

Iran logically understands the sooner it gets a bomb the safer it will be. The world's obsession with Iran is somewhat misdirected when it's the terrorist networks we need to focus on. That aside, Obama's initiative is a good start to his vision of a nuclear-free world. It certainly justifies his Nobel Peace Prize.

It was a moment of pride for nuclear-free activists to have our country's policy acknowledged by a US president. Two past Labour prime ministers were responsible. In the 1970s, Labour's Norm Kirk sent one of our frigates to Mururoa to protest against French nuclear testing. In the 1980s, David Lange built on that policy and refused nuclear warships in our harbours. The National Party opposed both polices. I wondered if it occurred to Key to tell Obama that.