February 26, 2018 / 10:18 PM / 10 months ago

New Zealand prime minister creates new cabinet post for disarmament

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand’s Prime Minister on Tuesday used her first major foreign policy address to announce she is establishing a ministerial position for disarmament amid tensions in the Asia-Pacific region over North Korea’s weapons programs.

Jacinda Ardern, whose Labour-led government took the helm in October, said that her Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters would take up the new cabinet role.

“Risks to global peace and security are growing. The greatest challenge we have today comes from North Korea, situated right here in our region,” she told a foreign affairs conference in the capital, Wellington.

On Friday, the United States announced that it was imposing its largest package of sanctions yet aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

Then on Monday, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ called for a new global effort to get rid of nuclear weapons, drawing a cautious response from envoys of atomic-armed powers at odds for decades over nuclear disarmament.

“The portfolio ... is an acknowledgment of the emphasis this government places on our long held anti-nuclear stance, and the role we must play now and in the future,” New Zealand’s Ardern said.

New Zealand has long adopted a firm line in opposing development of nuclear capabilities, which at times puts the small Pacific nation at odds with some allies.

FILE PHOTO - New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and related meetings in Clark, Pampanga, northern Philippines November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

In the mid-1980s, the Labour government of the time announced its decision to ban ships that were either nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed, prompting the United States to suspend security treaty obligations to New Zealand.

Since then, relations warmed a little with New Zealand’s previous center-right National government in 2016 approving the first U.S. warship to visit the country in 30 years.

The new disarmament minister Peters is among a handful of Western politicians to visit North Korea, during a previous tenure as foreign minister in 2005.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; editing by Grant McCool

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