Militaries poised for high-level NZ-US ties

Last updated 05:00 17/12/2012

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New Zealand and the United States are poised for a step up in high-level exchanges and joint military exercises.

US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said there were likely to be regular talks every six months and they were exploring ways for the two militaries to work together more closely now that the war in Afghanistan was winding down.

"I think the idea here is we have a lot of catching up to do," Dr Campbell said after meetings in Auckland and Wellington at the weekend.

"I think we want to work more together on humanitarian and disaster relief after this. I think that is a logical next step. I think we have some enormous potential to work together in the Pacific. I think we are also going to see greater opportunities for what you might call minilateral military training and operations that I think will involve other North East Asian States."

Minilateral military co-operation refers to smaller groupings such as co-operation between France, German and Britain over the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Dr Campbell said he could see that potentially translating to the Asia Pacific region, including in areas like disaster relief.

"One of the impressive things is how effectively New Zealand has worked with countries as far afield as China, Japan and others. I think we'd want to explore possibilities of how we could possibly work together."

The so-called Wellington Declaration, signed in 2010, signalled a boost in co-operation between the two countries, and the lifting of America's ban on joint military training and exercises has seen New Zealand troops return to US soil for the first time in more than two decades for a series of exercises. The navy also took part in Rimpac, the world's biggest maritime exercise, for the first time in 28 years.

Dr Campbell said he expected that to accelerate.

"There's going to be some other opportunities later this year. I think the truth is that our relationship is really blossoming very substantially and I think we want to embed some of the things we are doing militarily in a multilateral context working with other countries."

The gear change between the two countries was down to several factors, including the relationship between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister John Key, Dr Campbell said.

"I see President Obama regularly in meetings and I see the leaders that he is attracted to and he has to deal with a huge number of people. The truth is there are three or four leaders in Asia that really he has a very strong respect [for] and kind of listens to when they talk."

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That included the Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian and South Korean leaders - "but PM Key is on that list".

During a visit to New Zealand earlier this year, US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta suggested if New Zealand was prepared to make "revisions" to domestic policy that would further strengthen the relationship. That was seen as a reference to dismantling the anti-nuclear policy, and potentially reinstating New Zealand as a formal ally.

But Dr Campbell said that had never been raised in recent meetings.

"I think we fully understand that New Zealand is looking not to go backwards, not to recreate a relationship of the past, but to create a strong, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional relationship for the 21st century."

- Fairfax Media

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