A US Navy warship will visit New Zealand next month for the first time since the 1980s, ending a 30-year-old military stalemate between the countries that was triggered when New Zealand banned nuclear warships.
The visit marks a continued thaw in military relations, which turned frosty when New Zealand enacted its nuclear-free policy in the mid-1980s.
The policy prevents ships that have nuclear weapons or are nuclear powered from visiting. Because the US won't officially confirm or deny if its ships have nuclear capabilities, New Zealand had imposed a blanket ban on US ships.
But Key said he'd taken advice from his own officials and was "100 per cent confident" the USS Sampson wasn't nuclear powered or carrying nuclear weapons.
"I think it's a sign of the fact that the relationship between New Zealand and the United States is truly in the best shape it's been since the anti-nuclear legislation was passed," Key said. "All of those last vestiges of the dispute that we had have really been put to one side."
Key said he didn't think the result of the upcoming US presidential election would affect the relationship.
The US and New Zealand signed defence agreements in 2010 and 2012.
"We've been working with the US Navy for many decades and we're looking forward to hosting them down here," Martin said. "A birthday is not complete without your friends."
Mark Gilbert, the US ambassador in Wellington, said the visit helped clarify the improvement in the relationship.
He said the US and New Zealand shared similar values and had much in common, from culture to tourism.
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