US lifts ban on visiting NZ warships
The United States has lifted a ban on visits by New Zealand warships to US defence and coast guard bases around the world in a further thawing relations after a 26-year standoff on nuclear issues.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made the announcement during a visit to New Zealand today. He said Washington would lift restrictions on military exercises and facilitate more talks with New Zealand even though Wellington maintains its long-held nuclear-free stance.
For the first time since the suspension of the ANZUS Treaty in 1986, Washington will allow individual visits by Royal New Zealand Navy ships to US Department of Defense or Coast Guard facilities in the United States and around the world, Mr Panetta said in Auckland.
"These changes make it easier for our militaries to engage in discussions on security issues and to hold co-operative engagements that increase our capacity to tackle common challenges," he said.
Mr Panetta said Washington and Wellington would work together despite lingering "differences of opinion in some limited areas".
His visit, the first by a Pentagon chief in 30 years, signals a new era of US-New Zealand defence links breached in the mid-1980s, when Wellington declared itself nuclear-free and barred its ports to nuclear warships.
While both Washington and Wellington acknowledged the improvement in relations and defence ties, New Zealand defence minister Jonathan Coleman said New Zealand had an independent foreign policy and that its anti-nuclear ban was not negotiable.
"I don't think that we should get too hung up about trying to turn the clock back to pre-1986 because the reality is that the relationship is very, very good," Mr Coleman said at a news conference following their meeting.
New Zealand has a small contingent of troops fighting with US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.
In July, the United States and New Zealand agreed to hold regular high-level talks and to co-operate on maritime security, counter-terrorism, and peacekeeping operations.
US Marines trained in New Zealand earlier this year, and New Zealand's navy took part in the multi-nation Rimpac maritime exercise ships in July.