US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has caused surprise by referring to New Zealand as an "ally" - the first time in decades a senior US administration official has used the word in reference to the relationship between the two countries.
New Zealand and the US have not been allies since the mid-1980s, when a bust up over New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation saw it suspended from the Anzus defence alliance between Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
In recent years, both countries have been at pains to stress the long-standing friendship between the two countries, but have been careful not to use the word "allies".
It does not appear that Dr Rice's comments refer to us as "allies" in the formal sense, however, given that obstacles remain in the path of military training and exercises between the two countries.
Dr Rice suggested yesterday, however, that if there were issues that ought to be resolved between the two countries, then they ought to make the effort to do so.
Earlier today, Dr Rice said relations between New Zealand and the United States have "moved on" since the decades old anti-nuclear stoush.
But she was cautious not to extend any hope that the new warmth in the relationship might open the door to a free trade deal and avoided giving any time frame for when such a deal might be expected.
Referring to relations between New Zealand and the United States as "broad and deepening", she said both countries had moved on and if there were remaining issues to addressed between them they should try to address them.
"It is by no means a relationship that is somehow harnessed to or constrained by the past."
Meanwhile protesters have reportedly approached police armed with batons outside Government House in Auckland to "negotiate with police to arrest Condoleezza Rice".
About 100 protesters braved the rain.
Dr Rice flew into a storm in more ways than one after touching down in Auckland late last night – a once in a decade storm bearing down on Auckland forced the cancellation of a powhiri planned for 11am, while Foreign Minister Winston Peters faced fresh questions over his NZ First party's funding arrangements.
Asked at a press conference with Dr Rice about accusations by millionaire Sir Robert Jones that he was "lying" in relation to a $25,000 donation, Mr Peters said Sir Robert had now given three different versions of events surrounding his writing out a cheque to the previously unknown Spencer Trust.
He told reporters he "can't wait" to get back to Wellington to deal with Sir Robert's claims before demanding they move to the next question.
Mr Peters said he was optimistic of New Zealand's prospect of securing a free trade agreement with the US.
"If you're positive about this 21st Century relationship we will get there one day and sooner than people think," he said.
Dr Rice will be in meetings with Prime Minister Helen Clark and Opposition leader John Key this afternoon before attending a cocktail reception in Auckland tonight.
- with Sunday Star Times
- The Dominion Post
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