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THE WORLD FROM...Wellington

New Zealand, pleased with a US decision to take nuclear weapons off its ships, considers rejoining an old alliance

IN commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the landing of United States troops to defend New Zealand, The Wellington Operatic Society has been performing "We'll Meet Again" and other songs from the 1940s this month.

Whether US and New Zealand forces will meet again is now up to the Kiwis themselves.

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For the past eight years, New Zealand has been nuclear-free, a policy which has prevented US ships from using ports here. The Americans refuse to confirm or deny that nuclear bombs are on their ships.

As a result of this standoff, the US blackballed New Zealand from participating in the tripartite ANZUS military alliance with the US and Australia.

But President Bush's decision to remove nuclear arms from almost all US warships is prompting a new debate within New Zealand over whether to rejoin the 41-year-old defense pact.

"It is this government's intention to work toward the fullest possible participation in ANZUS, in alliance once again with our traditional allies," New Zealand Defense Minister Warren Cooper said on June 8.

New Zealand's foreign minister, Don McKinnon, says his party has a "commitment to improve" relations with the US.

Nothing is likely to happen until a government-appointed commission reports on the safety risks posed by nuclear-powered ships such as those used by the US Navy. Mr. McKinnon expects the commission to report later this year.

If the commission reports that the risk of nuclear-powered vessels is minimal, Prime Minister Jim Bolger is likely to try to get Parliament to amend the country's anti-nuclear legislation. This would allow US warships into New Zealand waters and would likely permit the country to get back into ANZUS.

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Once New Zealand is back, says Defense Minister Cooper, "this country will have access to high-level intelligence, will train with the technology and doctrine that won the Gulf war and, most importantly, be accepted back into the military fraternity with our natural allies."

McKinnon notes that New Zealand has been excluded from regional defense conferences. "There is a cost to not being a part of those discussions," he says, complaining that New Zealand misses the opportunity to have input on the defense of its region.

Any attempt by the New Zealand government to amend the anti-nuclear legislation, however, is likely to meet with protest on its own shores. The leader of the opposition party, Mike Moore, says he is against any changes. "The nuclear-free issue outweighs the benefits of ANZUS," he says.

And Jim Anderton, the leader of the country's third party, the New Labor Party, would go further. He is is opposed to any military alliances. "We'd have to be out of ANZUS," he asserts.

Mr. Anderton's position is similar to the shift taking place among the peace activists in the country. The magazine Peacelink is urging opposition to all defense links now that nuclear weapons are being removed from surface ships.

Despite the anti-militarism, the country went ahead with a June 19 parade in Auckland marking the 50th anniversary of US troops arriving in New Zealand. Several senior retired US military personnel were in the parade, and reportedly received a warm reception.

Two US companies, Data General and AT&T, are sponsors of an exhibit on US troops in New Zealand during the war. The exhibit opened with a swing band playing the tunes of the 1940s. But it may still be a little early to hum "We'll Meet Again."

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