New Zealand's historic defence relationship with the United States was commemorated and celebrated yesterday in ceremonies involving US Marine Corps personnel in Wellington.

Closer ties in the future will be discussed next week when Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman heads to Washington for his first official talks with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.

The visit of the 70 Marines and a 50-strong Marine Forces Pacific Band is to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of US Marines in New Zealand during World War II - a visit that was championed by New Zealand's ambassador to Washington, Mike Moore.

But it has served at the same time as a highly symbolic resumption of the closer defence relationship under the 2010 Wellington Declaration.


The declaration completed the thaw after 25 years of icy diplomatic relations over New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy.

Until now, such visits by the Marines or other US military groups were out of the question.

Dr Coleman's visit to Washington will take place at the same time as New Zealand is resuming participation in the Pacific Rim naval exercises known as Rimpac, after a long absence.

The first joint US-NZ military exercises on New Zealand soil in decades have recently finished.

Ceremonies yesterday began at the War Memorial in Buckle St, Wellington, where a small group of protesters held a silent anti-war demonstration.

US Ambassador David Huebner was in the gallery at Parliament yesterday when MPs from all parties expressed gratitude to the US for helping to defend New Zealand while its own troops were in Europe and North Africa.