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Resumption of US warship visits possible - reports

Published: 10:17AM Wednesday September 19, 2012 Source: Fairfax

A diplomatic flurry surrounds the first visit to New Zealand by a United States defence secretary in 30 years after reports it would signal the resumption of American warship visits.

US media reported unnamed officials saying they hoped to resume visits by navy warships to New Zealand for the first time since 1984, when the Anzus military alliance was suspended over New Zealand's nuclear-free legislation.

It follows the resumption of near-normal relations between the New Zealand and US militaries after a near 30-year freeze on training and exercises.

The report is understood to have sparked heavy cable traffic between New Zealand and the US ahead of the arrival of US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman yesterday hosed down the prospect of ship visits and said there was no change to policy on either side.

"The bottom line is we're not changing our nuclear ships policy and we've got an independent foreign policy and the US is very comfortable with that, and the relationship is growing with those parameters clearly stated."

Defence expert Robert Ayson said he expected Panetta would have something to announce in New Zealand given the significance of his visit. But the resumption of ship visits was unlikely.

Defence relations with the US have significantly warmed in recent years, culminating in the arrival of US Marines in New Zealand for joint exercises earlier this year and New Zealand's participation in the giant Rimpac exercises off Hawaii.