US marines could train NZ forces

United States Marines could help train New Zealand forces in amphibious capabilities following talks held here during US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta's historic visit.

Mr Panetta has also left the door open to stationing US troops in New Zealand, if invited, saying the US is more than ready for that kind of relationship.

The comments on TVNZ's Q+A programme this morning follow an announcement yesterday that Washington would drop restrictions on ship visits, which were put in place after New Zealand was suspended from the Anzus Treaty over its anti-nuclear stance.

Mr Panetta is the first US Defence Secretary to visit New Zealand in 30 years, with the last visit in 1982 before New Zealand passed its anti-nuclear law in 1987.

Mr Panetta said he and Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman had discussed the possibility of amphibious capability training for New Zealand forces.

"One of the things that was made clear to me by the Defence Minister is the interest in developing amphibious capability with the New Zealand forces, and we certainly can help provide assistance in that.

"The marines are among the best in terms of that capability, and I would hope that we could develop an approach where we could continue to do exercises, continue to provide training and assistance, continue to provide our expertise and try to build up New Zealand's capabilities so that you will be in a better position to be able to provide not only for your own security, but help us in providing for the security of the Asia-Pacific region."

Mr Panetta also said that if New Zealand wanted troops stationed here that was something they would support, "we certainly are more than ready to engage them in that kind of relationship. I think it would be very helpful".

Asked if it was a goal for New Zealand to re-enter the Anzus agreement, Mr Panetta said the countries would move forward "step by step".

"And ultimately if New Zealand is prepared to make revisions for the future that will help strengthen our relationship, then we will work together to try to achieve that goal."

He said the US and New Zealand were establishing a "new era of cooperation" and yesterday's announcement was a real step in the right direction.

"And I can only see the relationship getting better from this point on," he said.

"I'd like to see our relationship get stronger and better in the future, and I think both sides want to see that happen. Obviously we want to do it in a way that both countries can support."

Mr Panetta said the timetable for withdrawing New Zealand troops from Afghanistan by next April was in line with New Zealand completing its mission.

"New Zealand has done a great job in Bamiyan province. It's been one of the areas where we successfully have made the transition to Afghan security and governance. A lot of that is due to the great efforts of New Zealand."

Mr Panetta paid tribute to the New Zealand forces who had served in Bamiyan.

"They've paid a price with those that have lost their lives, but it's a price that I think has been done in order to try to achieve the goal in Afghanistan, which is to have an Afghanistan which can secure and govern itself."

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