The United States will hold tripartite talks with New Zealand and Australia today for the first time since the Anzus rift.
But US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell cautioned that in no way should it be seen as a resumption of the Anzus Treaty.
Dr Campbell, who has responsibility for the Asia-Pacific region, was in Wellington yesterday on his way to the Pacific Islands Forum in Vanuatu.
He said he was optimistic about the number of areas in which the US and New Zealand would be engaging in the future.
"So when I'm at the Pacific Island Forum tomorrow, for instance, we will have for the first time in decades a trilateral meeting, a dialogue between the United States, New Zealand and Australia to talk about some of the challenges that we together face in the Asia-Pacific region."
He said the discussion would be about political issues in which the countries all share common interests.
"We think that given our shared commitments with the Pacific, given our common heritage, given the fact that our soldiers, as we witnessed tragically today, are serving and dying together, don't we owe them the ability to sit down and talk about our mutual challenges? The answer is a resounding yes."
Dr Campbell met Defence Minister Wayne Mapp yesterday and expressed his condolences over the death of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell in Afghanistan.
But he would not be drawn on the issue of what the first death of a New Zealand soldier there might mean for ongoing support of the deployment.
"I think the most important thing today is to register our sadness."
But the US and other countries had been very grateful to to serve with New Zealand, Dr Campbell said.
Asked if the dialogue could extend in the future to defence issues, he said it would be "stopping short of anything that looked like a resumption of Anzus".
Dr Campbell said it was his sense that Anzus was not on New Zealand's agenda either.
"We clearly believe that there needs to be a defence or security component in this dialogue but we also have to recognise that, given our history, there are some challenges that would prevent us from returning to the situation we had."
The Anzus Treaty lapsed and the relationship was ruptured for years over New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation blocking nuclear-powered or armed ship visits.
The real thaw began in 2006 under the Bush Administration but has accelerated under President Barack Obama.
Dr Campbell said there would be a deliberate effort on the part of the United States to work more closely with New Zealand "as a recognition of the role that New Zealand is playing in global politics".
ON JOHN KEY
He was in many respects one of the most decisive figures at the nuclear summit and that is no small feat when there are 30 or so heads of state ... He did bond with the President.
ON NUCLEAR ISSUES
You are seeing increasing commonality and commitment [by the US] on issues associated with nuclear security which could be seen very clearly as a validation of some of the historic positions on the part of New Zealand.