Clinton visit will lift NZ US ties to new level

By Audrey Young

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will sign an agreement with New Zealand next week elevating the relationship between the two countries to a new level which may well provide for formal annual talks.

The agreement, known as the Wellington Declaration, will be signed next Thursday when Mrs Clinton is on a three-day visit to New Zealand.

Ironically, one of the issues to be covered in the agreement is joint work on nuclear non-proliferation.

New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy and legislation 25 years ago was responsible for a diplomatic rift that has begun to be addressed seriously in the past few years, beginning in 2007 under the George W. Bush Administration and accelerating under the Barack Obama Administration.

Intelligence sharing was fully restored only in October last year.

Yesterday in Washington, Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for Asia and the Pacific, made the announcement about the declaration just before Mrs Clinton began her extensive tour of the region.

Dr Campbell said at a State Department briefing that the declaration "will underscore our desire to see US-New Zealand relations return to a significance in terms of co-ordination on a range of issues - non-proliferation, politics, climate change, how we work together in the Pacific Islands".

He added that the US was very grateful for New Zealand's contribution to Afghanistan.

In Wellington in August, Dr Campbell told reporters he was hoping to formalise annual talks as another step in the improved relationship.

But the talks are likely to be between foreign ministers, and are not expected to include defence ministers, as do the annual talks between Australia and the US.

The Wellington Declaration is expected to cover issues of increased security co-operation in the region though not directly address the ban on joint military exercises imposed by the US in 1986.

Waivers to a confidential presidential directive have to be obtained before joint exercises are undertaken and the US has been quietly changing the protocols around that to make it easier to obtain waivers.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully told the Herald yesterday that the declaration would reflect the positive relationship but he was not expecting any significant announcement.

"It is well known that we have been working to achieve steady improvements in the relationship and by Hillary Clinton's own statements the relationship is in great shape.

"And I think that next week, you are likely to see the result of a range of steady improvements rather than a single announcement or device that is likely to take the relationship into a different space."

- NZ Herald

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