- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2012

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced Friday that New Zealand military ships now will be visiting U.S. ports with the defense secretary’s permission, ending a policy that had been in place since the 1980s.

Mr. Panetta also announced the removal of bureaucratic obstacles between the nations’ defense officials and an end to restrictions on joint military exercises.

“These changes are in the interests of both our nations as we continue with the business of promoting peace and prosperity in the Pacific and beyond,” he said at a press conference with New Zealand’s defense minister.

U.S.-New Zealand military relations were disrupted in 1984, when New Zealand banned all nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered ships to its ports, including U.S. Navy ships. The U.S. similarly banned New Zealand’s military ships from its ports.

As the U.S. has turned its attention to the Asia Pacific, its officials have looked towards shoring up support for its shift from allies and partners in the region.

“While we acknowledge that our countries continue to have differences of opinion in some limited areas, today we have affirmed that we are embarking on a new course that will not let those differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security matters,” Mr. Panetta said.

“I fully welcome the renewed U.S. interest in our part of the world,” said New Zealand Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman.