United States Vice President Joe Biden paid a special tribute tonight to US Army Captain Matthew Ferrara, a dual citizen of the US and New Zealand, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2007.

He was also a nephew of former Defence Minister Phil Goff.

Captain Ferrara was awarded one of the highest military honours, the Silver Star, for valour, said Biden.

Sadly, he did not get to receive it because just a few weeks later he and his unit were ambushed by insurgents.


Biden said that when he laid a wreath tomorrow in Auckland at the Cenotaph with Prime Minister John Key he would be honouring Matthew and all those other brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend their nations.

"Because our nations have made the same promise - at the going down and in the morning we will remember. We remember. We remember the sacrifices brave New Zealanders have made.

"That's who we are. We are cut from the same cloth. We may be a hell of a lot bigger but no different."

Phil Goff was not at the reception but said he would thank Biden tomorrow for the remarks about his nephew.

Biden was speaking at a reception in Auckland tonight hosted by Foreign Minister Murray McCully.

He is on a Pacific tour to assert the United States' role in the Pacific.

"We are a Pacific power," he said, echoing comments made in Australia yesterday. "We have always been a Pacific power. We are going nowhere. We mean what we say when we say we are rebalancing to the Pacific."

"This is where the action is going to be."

The energy and dynamism of the region was absolutely undeniable and it was "sparking" with incredible potential.

"Whether or not we reach that potential, whether or not we continue to prosper and live in peace, in our view depends on our ability to maintain a free and fair and open and liberal international system on the seas, in the skies and with free and open commerce."

He said the US and New Zealand had a vested interest in ensuring continued growth, stability and economic prosperity through the region "and I think we are better equipped to do that when we stand side by side to advance our mutual interests".

"It is no longer what America can do for New Zealand; it is what we can do with New Zealand that animates how the President [Obama] and I look at this relationship and, God willing, president Clinton will look at this relationship."

New Zealand and the United States shared the same values, the same commitment to freedom and equity, and the same fierce independence.

"You nor we never bend. We never bow. We know who we are. We mean what we say. We say it in slightly different ways but it is the same."

The US, like New Zealand, was constantly in pursuit of a more perfect union.

The United States had made a lot of mistakes, he said "but it has always been forward."

He mentioned the work the United States and New Zealand did together in the Antarctic, in the Ross Sea and at the United Nations Security Council.

There was deep history of partnership including in World War Two when troops were stationed in New Zealand.

His own family had a long connection with the region.

"My mother had four brothers. Two of them fought in New Guinea. One died and one came home in very bad shape and every time my grandfather would talk about his son who was lost, and New Zealand or Australia was mentioned, he straightened up.

"Not a joke. He straightened up. It's the nature of the relationship we've had."

He paid tribute the New Zealand troops training Iraqi troops in Camp Taji near Baghdad.