United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged last night that the Wellington Declaration she signed with New Zealand was effectively a document of symbolism rather than substance.

But the declaration was something on which the next stage of the relationship could be built.

"There is so much that I think we can do to fill in the blanks of the Wellington Declaration," she said at a Beehive reception after the signing.

"It's really a framework as to how we can take our relationship to the next level."

She promptly announced the first initiative under it - a programme aimed at the empowerment of women in the Pacific, which would be a collaboration between the US, New Zealand and the World Bank.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the declaration was highly symbolic and that it marked a decision to be "more ambitious for the relationship".

The pair signed the declaration in the Beehive theatrette where Prime Minister John Key guaranteed himself a clip on a few US television networks by accidentally calling her President Clinton. Mrs Clinton, the unsuccessful contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, was as amused as the audience.

Click here for the full transcript of the media conference.

The Wellington Declaration is described as a strategic partnership focused on two main areas: enhanced political dialogue "including regular foreign ministers' meetings and political-military discussions" and co-operation in the Pacific.

It is the Pacific part of the declaration that gives New Zealand immediate strategic added-value to the United States. The political dialogue was almost certain to have been stepped up anyway as the US reasserts its presence in the region in every sphere.

The commitment to work together in the Pacific will be of enormous help to the US as it prepares to re-establish its US Aid agency in the region, in Fiji, and provide a counter to China's spread of aid-related influence.

Mrs Clinton arrived yesterday on the home stretch of an eight-country tour through the region.

She faced only a handful of protesters - and Green MP Keith Locke gave her a nuclear-free zone badge after complimenting her on US nuclear non-proliferation initiatives.

In her speech at the reception, Mrs Clinton made a coded reference to New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy that caused the rift in the Anzus security treaty.

"Naturally, like any friends we do not always see eye to eye on every issue but our relationship today is stronger and more productive than it has been in 25 years."

Mrs Clinton said the United States had relaxed the ban on military exercises with New Zealand and said each was taken case by case.

"If possible we want to do more. We are exploring that as an opportunity for our respective militaries to consult over."

She did not elaborate on her comments of last week when she said in a speech that the US had "created new parameters for military co-operation with New Zealand".

Asked about the eight-country Trans Pacific Partnership free-trade talks that the US has joined, she said it was the top priority for the US.

"We're not ruling out, we're not ruling in any bilateral agreements with anybody else in the region, including New Zealand, but our priority is to really focus on the TPP."

Looking ahead
* Regular foreign ministers' meetings and military discussions.
* Co-operation in the Pacific.

Hillary Clinton on:
Military co-operation

The US and New Zealand have a procedure for handling military-to-military co-operation on a case-by-case basis. If possible, we want to do more. We're exploring that as an opportunity for our respective militaries to consult over. For example, more joint training and exchanges among our officers, opportunities to do joint exercises together. But that I leave to my colleague the Defence Secretary, who will certainly be consulting with his counterpart here.

Trade and the Trans Pacific Partnership (multilateral free-trade agreement)

We are very committed to the TPP and New Zealand again is playing a leading role. We're not ruling out, we're not ruling in any bilateral agreements with anybody else in the region including New Zealand, but our priority is to really focus on the TPP and see how fast we can move that towards completion.

On New Zealand

In a world where solving problems takes more partners than ever before, New Zealand punches way above its weight in every sector of challenge in the world today. We have a strong partner in New Zealand. This is for us a very important relationship and it is probably ... at its strongest and most productive in 25 years. We are particularly grateful for New Zealand's important leadership on non-proliferation [which is] in line with President Obama's vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.