6 Nov 2010

Nuclear weapon-free world the goal - Clinton

7:18 pm on 6 November 2010

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says though nuclear issues have divided America and New Zealand, both are committed to the goal of a nuclear weapon-free world.

Mrs Clinton is in New Zealand for a three-day visit as part of her tour of the Asia-Pacific region, and on Thursday signed the Wellington Declaration which formalises a new strategic partnership between the United States and New Zealand.

On Friday afternoon Mrs Clinton travelled to Christchurch where she took questions from an audience of about 300 students, academics, business people and members of the general public at the Town Hall.

She began the 50-minute meeting with the greeting kia ora, before restating that the US wants to broaden and deepen its relationship with New Zealand.

Mrs Clinton said nuclear issues have divided New Zealand and the US but they share a common goal of working towards a nuclear weapon-free world.

"We do not agree on every issue - I don't know two countries that do, I don't even know two people who do.

"Nuclear issues have divided us, but we share a common goal. Both of us are committed to creating a world without nuclear weapons."

Mrs Clinton acknowledged that may not happen in her life time, but said it must remain a long-term goal.

Questions from the floor covered everything from the Middle East to the future of the United Nations, nuclear non-proliferation and ending violence against women.

On the Middle East peace process, Mrs Clinton said it is an incredibly intense and emotionally fraught set of issues for the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the US is committed to a two state solution.

Tribute to quake-hit community

Mrs Clinton paid tribute to the people of Christchurch in the wake of a devastating earthquake.

She told those gathered at the meeting it was now hard to imagine that a 7.1 magnitude quake had struck the South Island city just two months ago.

"The US sends its best wishes ... I'm very impressed by how this community responded and, more than that, I recognise that Kiwis come to the aid of so many others when they're in need."

Mrs Clinton also thanked the New Zealand Air Force personnel who evacuated an ill American man from Antarctica two months ago.

Mrs Clinton met with officials at the US Antarctic Programme Centre in Christchurch and said the bond between the two countries is epitomised by their scientific collaboration in Antarctica.

Earlier, she laid a wreath in the Hall of Memories at the War Memorial in Wellington and placed a single red rose on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

Mrs Clinton flew to Australia on Saturday.