Local nuclear-free zone campaigns supported nationally from a campaigner’s house
April 22, 2010
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President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit, & NZ Villagers

‘MAKING A DIFFERENCE’: John Key and Barack Obama at the summit (Reuters)

US President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons, attended by 47 nations, was held this week. This was the largest post World War 2 conference of world leaders in Washington.

(For some reports on this conference see:

1. The Washington Post for an account of President Obama’s handling of the summit:

Obama comfortable as head of nuclear summit before world leaders

2. The British Broadcasting Corporation site description of the outcome:

Summit agrees to protect nuclear stocks ‘in four years’)

A turning point for New Zealand & a Prime Minister transformed:

– Prime Minister John Key reaps the benefits of historic village-level efforts

For New Zealand’s part, there is a story that came out of its villages throughout the country. Activists in the 1980s campaigning for local nuclear-free zones were pivotal in getting a Labour Party government elected in 1984 that declared New Zealand “nuclear free” and, accordingly, banned nuclear warship visits. Decades of controversy ensued with the United States, whose ships had hitherto made quite regular visits.

Largely as a consequence this month, the conservative National Party New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key went to President Obama’s conference not intending to mention New Zealand’s nuclear-free initiatives. As a pre-conference report said:

“Prime Minister John Key will deliver a statement on nuclear issues to a conference of world leaders in Washington today – [albeit] without a direct mention of New Zealand’s decades-long nuclear-free history.” See:

Key speaks on nukes – without mentioning the nukes

Pleasant surprises –

However, what pleasant surprises the New Zealand prime minister was to get when President Obama, Vice-President Biden, and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell spoke to him and  enthusiastically endorsed New Zealand’s 1980s nuclear-free initiatives.

1. President Obama

“US President Barack Obama said New Zealand had ‘well and truly’ earned its place at the table for top level discussions on nuclear security, Prime Minister John Key said today”.

As the Prime Minister also amplified: “We are probably the only country in the world that’s legislated for a world free of nuclear weapons and there’s no question that is the long-term ambition of this United States president.”

Obama-praises-New-Zealand’s nuclear -efforts

2. Vice-President Biden

Prime Minister Key said that Mr Biden considered New Zealand could play ‘a real leadership role’.

John Key meets US Vice President Joe Biden

3. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell

Echoing the others, Mr Campbell said quite explicitly:

“New Zealand had stuck with its nuclear-free ideals for more than two decades and endured the hits that came with that. That was why the summit ‘would not have been complete’ without New Zealand there.

‘The truth is in many respects it is recognition of the ideals and policies that New Zealand has espoused for decades.’”

The headline for this report well reflected Mr Key’s, and New Zealand’s, situation:

Key rides high on nuclear-free NZ

It is of course wonderful indeed that a national leader can now so step on to the world stage and have laid on him a mantle woven by ordinary people acting very locally in his country 3 and 4 decades ago.

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