Nuclear-free policy accepted: WikiLeaks

New Zealand did not give an inch on its nuclear-free legislation, which the United States quietly accepted, reflecting the superpower's waning influence, an international security expert says.

Prof Robert Patman, of the University of Otago, said for him the most fascinating disclosure of the NZ WikiLeaks cables so far was the apparent acceptance by the US after the 2005 election that New Zealand would not budge on the nuclear issue.

The feeling in Washington was that it was best to get on and build a relationship, especially given the rising influence of India and China.

"It's the US that has adjusted its policy, not the other way around."

Gone were the days of a single superpower able to call the shots; in an "interdependent" world the US had to make some compromises.

Like many observers, Prof Patman noticed the diplomatic and intelligence thaw of the past few years, but the continuing WikiLeaks revelations put "flesh on the bone".

The 2005 election was a turning point.

Then National leader Don Brash's "flirtation" with ending the ban alienated some National supporters and the Americans realised no party would be elected if seen as willing to change the legislation, Prof Patman said.

"What I find interesting is that after the [2005] election there was a recognition that this issue of disagreement over nuclear issues had to be put to one side."

Prof Patman was not perturbed that both Governments kept the renewed relationship quiet, even when ties were fully restored in 2009, as that was often the way governments did business.

He defended Prime Minister John Key and former prime minister Helen Clark over criticism they both appeared too eager in the cables for photo opportunities and meetings with US heads of state, saying the reality for a tiny country was that it had to take every opportunity to put its interests across to powerful countries.

However, the revelation Mr Key told voters he would meet the Dalai Lama but informed the Chinese he would do no such thing was a "classic case" of a politician caught out by the leaks.

The US kept a close eye on the New Zealand-China relationship, as it was interested in the fact New Zealand was the first Western country to sign a free trade agreement with the Chinese.

Many of disclosures were simply opinions and should not be taken too seriously, he said.

Wikileaks was forcing governments to be more accountable to voters, although the "tension" remained between openness and the ability to conduct diplomatic negotiations.

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