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No backdown on nuclear-free NZ: Key

09:35 Mon Sep 24 2012
AAP
Prime Minister John Key is promising there will be no backdown on New Zealand's nuclear-free status (Getty)
Prime Minister John Key is promising there will be no backdown on New Zealand's nuclear-free status (Getty)

Prime Minister John Key is promising there will be no backdown on New Zealand's nuclear-free status as part of renewed co-operation with the United States.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta visited New Zealand last week, and raised the possibility of having US troops based here.

"If New Zealand feels that's something they would support or want, we certainly are more than ready to engage them in that kind of relationship. We think it would be very helpful," Mr Panetta told TVNZ's Q+A programme.

During his visit, Mr Panetta announced New Zealand navy vessels will be able visit Defence Department and Coastguard facilities in the US and around the world.

Mr Key has also invited a US Coastguard vessel to visit New Zealand - as long as it's not nuclear-powered.

"There'll be no change to New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation, no change to the provisions about boats that would come to New Zealand," he told TVNZ's Breakfast.

Restrictions on talks between officials and joint military exercises are also being lifted.

The moves are seen as a thawing of relations strained for decades by New Zealand's anti-nuclear policies.

Mr Panetta's visit to New Zealand was the first in 30 years by a US defence secretary.

Mr Key says frosty ties have thawed in recent years and the relationship between the two countries is "back on the best footing it's been".

"We accept that each other has a slightly different perspective on the nuclear position and we work around that."