New Zealand navy ships will be allowed to visit United States defence ports for the first time in 26 years, in a strong show of thawing defence relations between the two countries.
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Auckland on Friday, and announced two revisions to United States defence policy toward New Zealand, including reversing restrictions in place since New Zealand's suspension from the ANZUS Treaty in the mid-1980s.
At a joint press conference with Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman, Mr Panetta announced the US secretary of defence will be able to authorise individual visits by New Zealand navy vessels to Department of Defense and Coastguard facilities in the United States and around the world.
"I suspect that soon we'll be able to see one of those ships in our ports," he said.
He also announced the lifting of restrictions on talks between defence officials and joint military exercises, "in order to make it easier so that our militaries can engage in discussions on security issues and cooperative engagements that build on our capacity to tackle these common challenges", Mr Panetta told media.
"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 in our relationship and will not let these differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security issues."
In talks earlier on Friday, Dr Coleman and Mr Panetta identified areas for closer defence cooperation, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
Mr Panetta also praised the work of New Zealand's troops in Afghanistan
"I have tremendous respect for the New Zealand Defence Force and their capability to be able to work with us to achieve the mission that we are embarked on."
Ties between the two countries had been frosty since 1986, when New Zealand's nuclear-free status and a ban on visits by US nuclear warships saw it suspended from ANZUS.
Relations began thawing in 2010 a visit to New Zealand by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010, which culminated in the signing of the Wellington Declaration on further cooperation.
Dr Coleman and Mr Panetta also signed the Washington Declaration on greater military cooperation in Washington in June this year.
Mr Panetta's visit was the first by a US defense secretary in 30 years.