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US prepared to do 'whatever we can' to help NZ - Panetta

Published: 11:14AM Sunday September 23, 2012 Source: ONE News

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says the United States will go to great lengths to help New Zealand expand its capabilities and security to build a friendship between the nations.

Panetta spent two days in New Zealand this week for military co-operation talks between the two countries in what is the first visit from the Secretary of Defense since 1982.

During his visit, Panetta announced the US would lift its 27-year ban on Kiwi ships visiting US military ports - in place since the New Zealand Government banned nuclear warships from its waters in 1985.

In an exclusive interview with TV ONE's Q+A programme, Panetta said he hoped the US could provide assistance and expertise so New Zealand could not only provide security for the region, but help the US provide security for the Asia-Pacific region.

"We have fought together and bled together.

"My approach to this is, as Secretary of Defense, [the US will do] whatever we can do to try and help New Zealand develop its capabilities and build a strong friendship."

Panetta said he hoped that allowing New Zealand ships to enter into US ports would enable the two countries to engage with each other.

"Getting rid of some of the silly limitations that were in place is a real step in the right direction, and I can only see the relationship getting better from this point on."

Panetta said the US faced issues in how to incorporate growing super powers such as India, Brazil and especially China into the "international family" as opposed to being outliers.

"The message I delivered to China is not to contain china, it's to engage China in a broader role in terms of dealing with the Pacific."

Auckland University's associate professor in political studies Raymond Miller said New Zealand must ask itself why the US is extending its hand now after years of trying to rebuild the relationship since tensions arose in 1985 over the country's nuclear-free stance.

"Great powers, like the United States, act primarily out of self-interest.

"They can see that the balance of power has shifted towards Asia-Pacific, they see that within that China has emerged as the major threat to American influence."

Miller said Panetta was now trying everything possible to ensure the cooperation between New Zealand and the US continued.

Panetta said even though the US was drawing down after 10 years of war, such as in Iraq, Libya and hopefully Afghanistan in 2014, the country still faced threats in the world.

"We face a threat from North Korea and the potential that they could engage in provocative behaviour that could very well result in war.

"We face the problem from Iran, and the fact they might try to obtain a nuclear capability as well."

Author Nicky Hager said New Zealanders should approach the offer of friendship from the US cautiously.

"What it is actually bringing, is the cold hard reality that when you are in that special inner circle of friends, you end up doing their work.

"When [Panetta] talks about possible war in Iran or North Korea, or most important of all China, do we want to vaguely be a part of that?"

Hager said he did not think the New Zealand public shared the same alliance views as the country did two decades ago.