The United States has eased restrictions on New Zealand Navy ships' visits to Defense Department and Coast Guard facilities in the country and around the world.
Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made the announcement at a joint news conference with his New Zealand counterpart Jonathan Coleman in Auckland on Friday.
Panetta said the policy, in place since 1984, had been modified to allow the Defense Secretary to authorize individual visits. "These changes, I think, are important and in the interests of both our nations," he added.
The Pentagon chief said the United States had also removed obstacles to talks between the two nations' defense officials, and had lifted restrictions on military exercises. The changes would make it easier for the U.S. and New Zealand militaries to discuss security issues and to work together in tackling common challenges.
The Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS or ANZUS Treaty) is the military alliance which binds Australia and New Zealand and, separately, Australia and the United States to cooperate on defense matters in the Pacific Ocean area.
The Treaty was suspended between the U.S. and New Zealand after the latter banned nuclear or nuclear-powered ships from entering its waters or using its ports in 1984. The U.S. "one-fleet" policy holds that if any U.S. ship is restricted from an area, it will refrain from sending any ship there.
Replying to a question, Coleman said the policy against nuclear ships "is in place and will remain in place."
The changes he announced today, Panetta said, affirm that despite differences in some limited areas, the United States and New Zealand are embarking on a new course that will not let those differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security matters.
The two Defense Minsters also discussed New Zealand's involvement in NATO's International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan.
Panetta noted he and Coleman signed the "Washington Declaration" at the Pentagon in June, reflecting a deeper partnership between the two militaries. The two defense leaders have identified several areas where closer defense cooperation is possible, including increasing cooperation in the South Pacific; building New Zealand's amphibious capacity; and working multilaterally to build capacity in security partner countries for peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.
Panetta said he considered it a "special honor" to be the first U.S. Defense Secretary to visit New Zealand in 30 years.
"The purpose of this trip is really to mark a new era" between the two countries, the Secretary said, adding that that New Zealand and the United States are "close friends -- yesterday, today and tomorrow."
Coleman called Panetta's trip to New Zealand "a very significant visit … [that] underscores the very warm state of the relationship between our two countries at all levels."
Panetta arrived in Auckland on Friday morning for the last leg of his third Asia-Pacific tour as Defense Secretary. The week-long trip has also taken him to Japan and China.
by RTT Staff Writer
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