Panetta Eases Restrictions on New Zealand Ship Visits
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
AUCKLAND, New Zealand, Sept. 21, 2012 Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced here today that he has eased the restrictions on New Zealand navy ship visits to Defense Department and Coast Guard facilities in the United States and around the world.
During a news conference with Defense Minister Dr. Jonathan Coleman, Panetta said the policy, in place since the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty was suspended between the United States and New Zealand in 1984, has been modified to allow the defense secretary to authorize individual visits. “These changes, I think, are important and in the interests of both our nations,” he added.
Panetta said the United States also has removed obstacles to talks between the two nations’ defense officials, and has lifted restrictions on military exercises. The changes will make it easier for the U.S. and New Zealand militaries to discuss security issues and to work together in tackling common challenges, the secretary said.
In 1984, New Zealand banned nuclear or nuclear-powered ships from entering its waters or using its ports. The U.S. “one-fleet” policy holds that if any U.S. ships are restricted from an area, it will refrain from sending any ships there. In response to a reporter’s question, Coleman said the policy against nuclear ships “is in place and will remain in place.”
The changes he announced today, Panetta said, affirm that despite differences in some limited areas, the United States and New Zealand are embarking on a new course that will not let those differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security matters.
The secretary also discussed New Zealand’s involvement in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan.
“In my meeting with Minister Coleman, I expressed my profound appreciation … for New Zealand’s contributions to this international effort,” he said. Panetta said progress has come at a heavy price for New Zealand, which last month lost five service members to enemy violence in Afghanistan.
“I join Minister Coleman and the people of New Zealand in mourning for these heroes – and they are heroes -- who gave their lives for their country and for a cause greater than themselves,” he said.
Panetta noted he and Coleman signed the “Washington Declaration” at the Pentagon in June, reflecting a deeper partnership between the two militaries. The two defense leaders have identified several areas where closer defense cooperation is possible, including:
-- Increasing cooperation in the South Pacific;
-- Building New Zealand’s amphibious capacity; and
-- Working multilaterally to build capacity in security partner countries for peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.
Panetta said he considers it a “special honor” to be the first U.S. defense secretary to visit New Zealand in 30 years.
“The purpose of this trip is really to mark a new era” between the two countries, the secretary said. He added that New Zealand and the United States are “close friends -- yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
Coleman called Panetta’s trip to New Zealand “a very significant visit … [that] underscores the very warm state of the relationship between our two countries at all levels.”