NZ, US resume bilateral military ties after nearly 30 years

By Victoria Young, Patrice Dougan

New Zealand and the United States have agreed to extend military cooperation after almost 30 years.

The move comes as the US takes a greater interest in the Asia-Pacific region, amid the growing strength of China.

In a joint statement Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman and US Secretary of defence Chuck Hagel said the increased cooperation will see the defence forces of both countries come together for peacekeeping initiatives, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the Asia-Pacific, as well as joint training exercises.

It will also see a New Zealand Defence Force navy ship authorised to dock at Pearl Harbour for the first time since the 1980s.

"Our defence relationship with the US is in great shape, and provides a strong platform for working closely together in the future," said Dr Coleman, who presented his counterpart with an All Blacks jersey with the number 1 and word Hagel on the back to mark the occasion.

"We have agreed to expand our cooperation on peacekeeping training initiatives. We will be looking for opportunities to support our Asia-Pacific partners to build the capacity of their peacekeeping forces.

"New Zealand will also be providing military instructors to the US-led Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative from 2014."

The announcement follows last month's successful meeting of Pacific Army Chiefs, co-chaired by New Zealand and the US, and comes in the wake of last year's Washington Declaration, which set out to achieve regular high-level dialogue and enhanced cooperation between the two nations.

"The NZDF is looking forward to working with our international partners, including the US, as part of Exercise Southern Katipo next month, the largest ever international exercise to be held in New Zealand," Dr Coleman said.

New Zealand is also set to take part in an international anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, and will also participate in next year's Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise in the US, the world's largest multi-national naval exercise.

The announcement by Mr Hagel that a navy ship has been authorised to dock at Pearl Harbor during RIMPAC 2014 was welcomed by Dr Coleman.

It will be one of the first visits of a New Zealand ship in a US military port since Washington lifted a 1986 ban in September last year.

The embargo was put in place as a reprisal for a New Zealand ban on nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered submarines from entering its waters.

The announcement comes amid concerns about US intelligence agency the NSA spying on its allies - the most recent revelations have centred on claims it bugged the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 34 other leaders.

At a press conference this morning, Dr Coleman gave a light-hearted reply when asked whether New Zealand was concerned by the latest claims.

"New Zealand's not worried at all by this, we don't believe it would be occurring.

"Quite frankly there'd be nothing anyone would be hearing in our private conversations that we wouldn't be prepared to say publicly."

He went on to describe a newspaper cartoon run here which depicted a spy listening in to a communique from New Zealand - who had fallen asleep.

"So I don't think New Zealand has anything to worry about."

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