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US lifts ban on visits by New Zealand naval ships

The United States has lifted a ban that prevented New Zealand naval ships from visiting US ports or bases since the 1980s, defense secretary Leon Panetta said today during a visit to Auckland.

world Updated: Sep 21, 2012 08:12 IST

The United States has lifted a ban that prevented New Zealand naval ships from visiting US ports or bases since the 1980s, defense secretary Leon Panetta said on Friday during a visit to Auckland.

The change in policy, part of efforts to bolster bilateral security ties, will "allow the US secretary of defense to authorise individual visits to department of defense or coast guard facilities in the United States and around the world," Panetta said.

In a joint news conference with his New Zealand counterpart Jonathan Coleman, Panetta also announced that limits on meetings between defence officials and military exercises had also been rescinded.

"These changes I think are important and are in the interests of both our nations," the Pentagon chief said.

The announcement underscored improving security ties between the two countries since a chill during the Cold War, when New Zealand imposed a ban on any visits by US nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered ships to its ports.

"While we acknowledge that our countries continue to have differences of opinion in some limited areas, today we have affirmed that we are embarking on a new course that will not let these differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security issues," Panetta added.

The Australia, New Zealand, United States Security (ANZUS) treaty was suspended between Wellington and Washington in 1986, but in recent years both sides have discussed finding ways to enable closer military cooperation without restoring the provisions of the treaty.

President Barack Obama's administration has pushed to bolster military ties across the region as part of a strategic shift towards the Asia-Pacific, driven mainly by concerns over China's growing power.

Panetta's trip to New Zealand was the first by a Pentagon chief in 30 years and the first since the ANZUS treaty terms were suspended between the two countries.